Understanding policymaker support for traffic safety countermeasures

Driver putting on seat belt

Minnesota is one of 34 states with a primary seat belt law. Photo: Shutterstock

Mounting evidence shows that certain traffic safety countermeasures consistently save lives on our nation’s roadways. Examples include motorcycle helmet laws, primary enforcement of seat belt use, sobriety checkpoints, graduated driver licensing, mandatory ignition interlock, and automated speed enforcement. But despite the effectiveness of these countermeasures, states that have tried to implement them have had varying levels of success in gaining the support needed from policymakers.

A team of researchers from the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs is working to understand why this support varies so widely in a project funded by the Roadway Safety Institute. The team’s work includes assessing the factors that affect the adoption of evidence-based approaches to road safety by state legislators and policy leaders, examining the role of federally required state safety programs, and identifying best practices for states.

“We know that if certain policy countermeasures are adopted more broadly by state legislatures, we would likely see measurable and significant reductions in roadway fatalities and serious injuries,” says Lee Munnich, Humphrey School senior fellow and the project’s lead investigator. “In this project, we’re asking why state legislators and policy leaders support or oppose certain evidence-based countermeasures. For example, are they not convinced of the evidence? Are they concerned about constituent response? And how do things like public opinion surveys, lobbying groups, and law enforcement organizations affect their decisions in support or opposition?”

Earlier this year, Munnich’s team completed the first phase of the project, which included reviewing state strategic highway safety plans and Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) programs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. As part of that work, the researchers prepared a draft case study for each state.

The team also developed methodology for a TZD program assessment tool and conducted policy interviews with state legislators and safety policy leaders. During the next year, continued work will include developing and testing the new TZD assessment tool, conducting roadway safety policy roundtables, and completing a policy brief.

Ultimately, Munnich hopes this work will help shape the future of roadway safety policy.

To learn more, read the full article in the December Catalyst.

Posted in Planning, Safety, Transportation research, Uncategorized

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