Highway safety

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 3, 2005

Virginia motorists have been relatively fortunate where highway safety and insurance premiums are concerned.

Because of safety consciousness, insurance premiums in Virginia have been running about 20 percent less than the national average.

As noted by W. Neal Menefee, president of the Rockingham Group in Harrisonburg, in a column in the Roanoke Times, you would think this is an environment the General Assembly would want to preserve and could through three simple steps.

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Make enforcement of seat belt laws primary rather than secondary. Currently, passengers in the front seats of vehicles are required to wear seat belts. However, law enforcement offices can cite them for failure to do so only if they have been stopped for another offense. As a result, seat belt use among Virginia drivers and passengers is about 80 percent, well below the 90 percent-plus average nationwide.

Menefee writes that it is estimated that moving to primary enforcement would save more than 70 lives, avoid 1,000 injuries and save more than $230 million in medical expenses each year.

Another easy move that would ease the insurance and medical costs of all Virginians is continuing to require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

The law is under assault. Anti-helmet groups throughout the country are gaining ground and are lobbying hard for repeal of the provision in Virginia. In Kentucky and Louisiana, they have been successful. Both states saw helmet usage fall by 50 percent and the fatality rate increased 37 percent in Kentucky and 75 percent in Louisiana.

&uot;Everyone pays a part of the cost for these tragic accidents,&uot; Menefee writes,&uot; through higher insurance rates, hospital or rehabilitation expenses for uninsured cyclists, or the emotional cost associated with a friend or family member injured or killed while riding a cycle.

The third move is expanding red light violations throughout the state. Currently in Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach, red lights at some intersections are equipped with cameras to take photos of cars that disregard red lights and drive through intersections. Few among us have not come close to being in an accident when some irresponsible driver ran a red light.

Through the system, citations are send to the offenders through the mail.

Studies have shown that where red light cameras are used, intersection crashes are reduced by 40 to 75 percent. The current law allowing red light cameras is set to expire in 2006. The General Assembly should not only extend it, but expand it so that it can benefit motorists all Virginia cities.

These are simple, common sense measures that will benefit all Virginians.