La. praised for vehicle safety laws

Louisiana is one of 10 states that won positive ratings Wednesday from a group that represents consumer, health and insurance interests.

The organization, called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the state has 9 of 15 model laws that officials view as essential to public health.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Jacqueline S. Gillan said she often cites Louisiana for its enactment of a law that requires all motorcycle riders to wear safety helmets, one of 19 and the District of Columbia that do so.

The state’s motorcycle law, enacted in 2004, repealed a 1999 measure.

Louisiana also has other laws that Gillan’s group considers essential, including measures that require seat-belt use in the front and back seats, and cellphone and text-messaging restrictions while driving.

However, Gillan said the state falls short on several key statutes to protect children.

The group recommends that states require booster seats through age 7.

Louisiana requires such seats until age 6.

The group recommends drivers be at least 16 years old to get a learner’s permit and 18 for an unrestricted license.

Louisiana allows them at ages 15 and 17, respectively.

“You are missing laws that protect Louisiana children,” Gillan said Tuesday. “It does strike me that Louisiana would be well-served if the Legislature looked at this.”

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said Tuesday that some of the recommendations, including a ban on open containers throughout a vehicle, would “really be a challenge.”

Louisiana allows open containers in some cases, including during Mardi Gras.

“You have to pick your battles on some of these,” LeBlanc said.

In other cases, he added, groups like Gillan’s can help in any push for changes in the Legislature.

“It is good to get a fresh critical look at your work,” LeBlanc said.

Highway fatalities nationally rose in 2012 after six years of drops, according to the study.

Fatalities totaled 33,561, and the study said the increase is alarming.

Gillan said the hike may stem from complacency after years of highway safety improvements.

Fatalities nationally totaled more than 45,000 in 1989.

Other states cited favorably include Illinois, Oregon, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Rhode Island, Washington and California as well as the District of Columbia.

Those labeled as “dangerously behind” in their enactment of key laws include Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.