In recent years, the Louisiana Legislature has passed a number of bills aimed at reducing Louisiana’s high rate of highway deaths. In this year’s regular session lawmakers will be asked to make it possible to save even more lives by considering bills dealing with two critical issues: underage drinking and seatbelt use.
Louisiana has already joined all other states in raising the legal age for drinking alcohol to 21. However, our law allows youth less than 21 to hang out in bars. Hardly a month goes by that we don’t read about another tragedy somewhere in Louisiana involving teenagers who were too young to be legally drinking but had visited a bar prior to a devastating crash.
Statistics for the 18- to 20-year-old group are startling and tragic. In 2007, drivers in this group had the highest alcohol-related crash rate in Louisiana. While this age group made up only 5 percent of licensed drivers in 2007, they made up 12 percent of drivers involved in alcohol-related crashes. In 2006, almost 1,950 DWI tickets were issued to drivers in Louisiana under 21.
Over the past 20 years, seatbelt use in Louisiana has increased tremendously, with 75 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers buckling up in 2007. However, in most recent years, seatbelt use remained static and even slipped moderately from an all-time high of almost 78 percent in 2005. We believe the most effect way to increase usage is to make it more costly for motorists to violate the law.
Our current $25 fine for not wearing a seatbelt is the lowest in the United States. Legislation to be considered this year would raise the fine to $50 for first offenders, $100 for second offenders and $100-plus court costs for third offenders.
Another life-saving bill to be introduced this year would require back-seat passengers to buckle up. Many motorists have a false sense of security, thinking that they are protected from injury or death if they are riding in the rear seat of a vehicle.
Statistics demonstrate otherwise.
In 2007, 64 back-seat passengers were killed in Louisiana crashes, 48 received severe injuries and 309 received moderate injuries. Untold numbers of lives could be saved and injuries dramatically reduced if everybody in a vehicle – regardless of seating position – buckled up.
In 2006, 985 people were killed in traffic crashes in Louisiana. Effective laws combined with education and enforcement are essential to our effort.
James E. Champagne,
Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections