Kansas ranks in the bottom half of states when it comes to passing laws that encourage people to drive safely.
But at least it’s improving.
That’s the conclusion of a new study from the Emergency Nurses Association, which tracks such matters as part of its National Scorecard on State Roadway Laws: A Blueprint for Injury Prevention.
Since the last scorecard, in 2006, Kansas joined two other states — Rhode Island and Tennessee — in improving child passenger safety laws, the association said.
Overall, Kansas scored a seven out of a possible 13 for laws identified by the association as being most effective in promoting traffic safety. That was enough to place Kansas in a five-way tie for 33rd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Two years ago Kansas was locked in a seven-way tie for 37th.
“We’re middle of the road, but we could be doing better,” said Pete Bodyk, manager of traffic safety for the Kansas Department of Transportation, who reviewed the report’s results Wednesday. “And it’s not about taking anybody’s rights away. It’s about safety.”
According to the report, Kansas still lacks:
• Universal motorcycle helmet laws requiring that all riders wear a helmet, and that such helmets meet federal specifications.
• A primary seat belt enforcement law, applicable to all seating positions.
• Passenger limits and restrictions on nighttime driving for the intermediate stage of the state’s graduated driver’s license law.
Bodyk said that while legislative attempts to address all of those safety-related shortcomings had failed to gain traction in recent years, efforts likely would resume once again in January. He recalls that efforts to require the use of booster seats took six years before becoming law.
This coming year, he said, the most effective improvement would be passing a universal seat belt law — one that would require all people inside a vehicle to be using proper restraints, and one allowing law-enforcement personnel to pull over and cite drivers for such violations without having any other reasons to do so.
Such universal laws, Bodyk said, boost belt usage by anywhere from 10 percent to 12 percent after they take effect. Kansas’ belt-use rate now rests at 77.3 percent, below the national average of 83 percent and well behind the rate of up to 95 percent in some states with universal laws.
“There’s no one silver bullet, but that’s one thing that can make the biggest difference right away,” Bodyk said. “If you’re wearing a seat belt, you’ve got a better chance of surviving a crash.”