It’s what you thought: Florida really is among the worst states for highway safety

A damaged Monroe County Sheriff’s Office patrol car sits on a flatbed tow truck in front of a Key Largo gas station on Nov. 6, 2018. The crash sent a deputy to the hospital to be treated for minor injuries.
A damaged Monroe County Sheriff’s Office patrol car sits on a flatbed tow truck in front of a Key Largo gas station on Nov. 6, 2018. The crash sent a deputy to the hospital to be treated for minor injuries. dgoodhue@flkeysnews.com

Drivers get knocked all the time for those only-in-Florida road infractions — like last year’s wave of people clinging atop hoods on speeding cars on expressways like Interstate 95.

So, yes, we know driving in Florida is for the brave. But one advocacy group says we have reason to be concerned. There aren’t enough laws governing road and highway safety.

Every year, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety release The Advocates’ Report to grade the 50 states on how well road safety laws are enacted and enforced.

Tuesday was the day and Florida finds itself among THE WORST states, with among the fewest optimal laws. That’s not a surprise given that Florida, once again, makes a regular appearance on the list. The road safety advocacy group, has been around since 1989, and started issuing these annual report cards 15 years ago.

The group gave every state and D.C. a rating in five categories: Occupant Protection, Child Passenger Safety, Teen Driving, Impaired Driving, and Distracted Driving.

The states were then given an overall grade of: Green (Good); Yellow (Caution); and Red (Danger).

With 13 out of 16 safety laws on the books, Rhode Island earned the top green rating. Other states with a green rating include Delaware, Oregon, Washington, California and Louisiana. The District of Columbia also got a green.

Florida saw red. The state had 2,922 fatal crashes and 3,112 deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, using the most current figures — the same stats used by the advocacy group.

“States that earn a red rating lag seriously behind when it comes to adopting Advocates’ recommended laws,” the report said.

South Dakota, having adopted just two of 16 recommended safety laws, topped this year’s worst list.

Florida joins these other states with a red rating: Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Virginia, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Vermont.

State Map Safety.jpg
The 2019 roadmap of highway safety laws. Florida, earning a red grade, has among the fewest, according to the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety group’s latest report, released Jan. 22, 2019. Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety

The Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety recommend that Florida, which has five safety laws, enact 11 more to join the green, or safer, states. These laws would be:

Missing rear primary enforcement seat belt law.

All-rider motorcycle helmet law. Florida allows motorcycle drivers over 21 with $10,000 in medical insurance coverage to ride without helmets.

Rear facing through age 2 law.

Booster seat law.

Minimum age 16 for a learner’s permit with nighttime and passenger restrictions. Florida doesn’t limit teens from driving with too many passengers in a car and you can get a learner’s permit at 15 if you pass tests.

Age 18 for unrestricted license for teen drivers. You can currently get a driver’s license at 16 in Florida — with some restrictions limiting night-time driving — if you pass the written and road test.

Ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders that would stop them from driving if the user fails a breath test.

All-driver text messaging restriction.

Cellphone restriction. Twenty states and D.C. lack optimal laws restricting cellphone use for teen drivers.

The group said the laws Florida does have concerning the use of safety belts and distracted driving don’t go far enough. Only front seat passengers are required to wear safety belts, for instance, and the advocates believe passengers in the rear seats should also be buckled up.

And while it’s illegal to text and drive in Florida, drivers are only pulled over if a law enforcement officer sees them committing another infraction, such as speeding.

The theme this year, and in 2018’s report, was all this focus on the development of driverless cars.

“These experimental vehicles are touted as a means to eliminate traffic crashes by removing the factor of human error,” the report said. “However, proven advanced technologies, currently in high end models or offered as part of luxury packages, could be reducing crashes now.”

Advocates’ President Cathy Chase said, “The theme of this year’s report is ‘until the day comes when driverless cars are proven to be safe, we can save countless lives by taking action now on verified technology and comprehensive laws.’ ... While we are optimistic that automated systems, or ‘driverless’ vehicles, may have the potential to reduce, or even eliminate, crashes in the future, that utopic vision is still likely decades away.”

According to the advocacy group, crash fatalities nationwide reached 37,133 in 2017. Additionally, over three million people were injured on the roads in 2016, the latest year for which full data is available. Each year on average the comprehensive cost of motor vehicle crashes is over $800 billion.

And this is before the Bird Box Challenge, in which fools reenact scenes, like driving while blindfolded, from the popular Netflix movie. A teen in Utah, for instance, crashed her car while driving blindfolded in January, CBS News reported.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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