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Tennessee Traffic Accident Prevention — Tougher Laws Needed

Last year, the federal government passed a multi-billion dollar initiative known as MAP-21 to improve roadway safety across the country. The act offers grants, tax breaks and matching dollars to those states that pass certain legislative measures aimed at improving roadway safety. road.jpg

However, our Knoxville accident lawyers have learned that many states – including Tennessee – haven’t taken the government up on all of the incentive dollars available. Of more critical importance is that such lack of action is increasing the risks motorists face on the road.

A number of these measures, including graduated driver’s license programs, distracted driving prevention and enhancement of drunk driving penalties, have multiple benefits. For starters, laws like these save lives and reduce injuries. This in turn reduces both the actual and societal cost of crashes, including less resources expended by emergency responders, law enforcement and the health care industry. And finally, there is federal funding available to not only cover implementation costs but to exceed them, providing a boon for cash-strapped state governments.

Nationwide, the cost of motor vehicle crashes topped $230 billion last year, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which recently released its “2013 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws” annual report. In Tennessee, the costs topped $4.6 billion.

Although our state was given a high “green light” rating for overall road safety improvement laws, there are still numerous areas where we’re lacking.

In 2011, there were nearly 950 traffic fatalities in the state. In the last decade, there have been roughly 11,500.

Among the laws that we’re lacking, according to the research group, are:

  • A GDL program requiring teens be at least 16 to obtain a learner’s permit;
  • A GDL program requiring restrictions for teens driving at night;
  • A GDL program requiring drivers be at least 18 years-old to obtain an unrestricted license;
  • An Ignition Interlock program for all DUI offenders, not just repeat offenders;
  • A law requiring mandatory BAC testing for drivers involved in fatal crashes;
  • A law banning open alcoholic beverage containers in vehicles.

The 2013 study covers a wide range of traffic safety issues, but given that Tennessee has problems in particular with teen drivers and DUI offenders, we’ll focus there.

Tennessee is not alone in its lack of protection for teen drivers. In fact, only 12 states and D.C. have a “green light” rating for teen driving laws, though no state has yet adopted all of the optimal GDL recommendations.

In Tennessee, traffic fatalities from 2006 through 2011 involving a driver between the ages of 15 and 20 topped 1,120. GDL programs allow teens to gradually learn important driving skills in phases, and have proven effective in reducing teen crashes and deaths.

The federal government offers grants for implementation of such laws, provided they include a learner’s permit stage lasting six months, during which time drivers are barred from cell phone use behind the wheel. There must also be an intermediate stage that lasts until the driver is 18, during which passengers are limited to one non-family member under the age of 21. Nighttime driving is also restricted.

With regard to impaired driving, Tennessee is the only state in the country to receive the lowest “red light” rating. In 2011, more than 30 percent of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol, with nearly 10,000 people killed as a result.

Incentives to enact drunk driving legislation include money for high visibility enforcement campaigns, interlock ignition programs, improved BAC testing, DUI courts and judicial training programs.

If you are involved in a Tennessee traffic accident, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights at (865) 524-5657.

Additional Resources:
10th Annual Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, January 2013, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety,

More Blog Entries:
Tennessee Traffic Safety: Resolve to Be a Safer Driver in 2013, Jan. 3, 2013, Knoxville Car Accident Attorney Lawyer

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