Top Five Road Dangers Driving Changes to Policy and Rules of the Road

States are continually updating the rules of the road, all in a continual effort to make the roads safer. In many cases, senseless deaths drive lawmakers to improve existing laws or stiffen penalties. Here are a handful of road rules that are regularly being updated, and some of the cases that have led to increased awareness of danger.

Texting & Cell Phone Use

Distracted driving used to refer to talking to passengers, playing with the radio or eating in the car. With the advent of smart phones, distracted driving has taken on a whole new meaning and significantly increased the danger. reports that because “text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.”

Policy around smart phones is now regularly reviewed and updated. Many states have laws that make it illegal to text or use a smart phone while driving. Some states still simply recommend that phones not be used, but have tough penalties if an accident is contributed to smart phone use. Visit for a complete list of current distraction driving and cell phone laws.

Teen Drivers

Statistics for teen driving fatalities are staggering. In the 1990’s states started addressing the issue with graduated licensing laws, ensuring teens get more experience behind the wheel before being set free on their own. Studies also show that teens are more likely to be in accidents when driving with other teens, especially multiple teenagers at once. Therefore laws around graduated licensing laws often include limits around how many teenagers can be in the car while a new driver is driving and they also often provide limits to nighttime driving. Graduated driving laws are meant to gradually expose new drivers to driving and ensure they are safe behind the wheel before earning their unrestricted driver’s license.

Visit the GHSA site for a complete list of Graduated Licensing Laws by state.

Pedestrian Crossings

Nowhere in the United States is there heavier pedestrian traffic than in New York City, a city with over 12 million residents, many of whom do not own a car. When Allison Leo, age 3, was killed by crossing the street with her grandmother in a crosswalk, a spotlight shone on the mild penalties in NY State for hitting a pedestrian. The New York Times covered the story
about a taxi cab driver who struck and killed Allison and his only penalty was to lose his license for 30 days.

According to National Conference of State Legislatures, pedestrians deaths make up 14% of all traffic deaths in the United States. Per the NCSL web site, “To combat the rise in pedestrian injuries and fatalities and create more walkable communities, state legislatures have been toughening laws regarding the circumstances when a motorist must stop or yield to a pedestrian crossing at an uncontrolled crosswalk.”

For a complete list of pedestrian laws by state, visit

Elderly Drivers

As baby boomers get older, so does the age of the average driver in the United States. Many states have no rules or policies at all regarding elderly drivers, leaving the choice to drive entirely up to individuals. When George Weller plowed through a shopping crowd in Santa Monica on July 16, 2003, everyone started to re-think policy regarding elderly drivers.

Even in states without a tragedy to point to are evaluating current policy. In 2013, Virginia conducted a review to determine if the state needed to lower the age when a person must come in for an in-person license renewal and vision test, as reported by The Virginian-Pilot

Statistics also point to a need to evaluate policy in this area. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent statistics, from 2011, show that 17 percent of traffic deaths in the United States involved people 65 and older, at a time when that age group made up 13 percent of the population.

For a complete list of mature driver laws by state, visit Governor’s Highway Safety Association

DUI and Ignition Interlock Laws

In the 1970’s, drunk driving fatalities were at an all-time high. On May 3, 1980, Cari Lightner, age 13, was struck and killed by a drunk driver in Fair Oaks, CA. Her mother founded MADD, an organization that has for 35 years fought for stricter DUI laws and to support victims of drunk and drugged drivers.

What spurs MADD and other similar organizations on over the last several decades is a continual desire to reduce drunk driving fatalities. Statistics show that since 1982, deaths from drunk driving have been cut in half on an annual basis, from 25,000 deaths per year to around 10,000 deaths per year. The group has done this through mass communication efforts and by lobbying for stricter DUI laws in all 50 states.

In 1981, a student by the name of Jeffrey Feit won an innovation contact with a primitive version of a Driver Ignition Interlock device, or DII. MADD and other groups have campaigned to have DII laws implemented. As of 2012, all 50 states added Ignition Interlock Laws to the DUI armory, resulting in a significant decline in DUI repeat offenders. Many states are continually reviewing these laws. Some politicians in the U.S. and Europe have supported legislation to require automakers to provide a DII in all automobiles.


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Lisa Lippiner covers driving news for, making the roads safer one test taker at a time.

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