Iowa Vehicle Safety Laws Inconsistent with NTSB Safety Recommendations

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a federal investigative agency, conducts studies and issues recommendations to states on ways to improve highway safety. The NTSB's recent most wanted transportation safety improvement recommendations includes four fundamentals, however, Iowa has yet to fully commit itself to several key provisions.

The NTSB "Most Wanted List"

The NTSB's "most wanted list" (list of the most important safety improvements) currently outline four main recommendations states should adopt and implement. These include:

  • Improve child occupant protection
  • Enact primary seat belt enforcement laws
  • Eliminate distractions for young drivers
  • Eliminate hard core drinking driving

The recommendations are not requirements but suggestions and each state is free to choose whether or not it will implement the advice. Some say, however, that states are putting drivers at risk by failing to implement the proposals.

NTSB's Child Safety Restraint Recommendation

In 1996, the NTSB recommended that states require children under 8 years old who ride in a vehicle sit in a specific child restraint system or booster seat. According to the NTSB, over 3,500 children between the ages of 4 and 8 died in traffic accidents between 1998 and 2007. Approximately half of those children were completely unrestrained. Of those restrained, most were improperly placed in a seat belt designed for an adult instead of in a child safety or booster seat.

The state of Iowa, however, only requires children under 6 year of age sit in a child restraint system when traveling in a motor vehicle. Children between the ages of 6 and 11 may be transported with just a seat belt. Children from 6 to 8 years old are then left, some argue, in a dangerous and vulnerable position over which they have little to no control.

Seat Belt Enforcement Laws: Iowa vs. NTSB Recommendation

In 1997, the NTSB recommended that states enact mandatory seat belt legislation for all vehicle operators and their passengers regardless of age. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 54 percent of the 29,000 people who died as passengers in car accidents in 2007 were unrestrained.

Iowa, unfortunately, only requires drivers, front seat and back seat passengers over 18 to wear a seat belt. Some indicate that this places a significant number of passengers at risk of dying in an automobile accident.

Iowa's Response to Teen Driving Dangers

Statistics show that the risk of a teen driver getting into an accident increases with each additional teen passenger in the car. Studies reveal that 16-year-old drivers are five times more likely to get into an accident when traveling with peer passengers.

In 2002, the NTSB recommended that states create a three stage graduated licensing system with restrictions on the number of passengers in the vehicle of drivers with an intermediate stage license. Specifically, it recommended prohibiting an intermediate licensed driver from transporting more than one passenger under age 20 unless accompanied by a supervising, licensed adult at least 21 years old.

Iowa has implemented a three stage graduated licensing system, but allows drivers with any type of license to transport passengers of any age so long as there is a seat belt for all passengers. Therefore, a 16-year-old driver in Iowa can legally drive around six friends in a minivan if seatbelts are available for everyone. Statistically, this creates a recipe for disaster for these teens.

Iowa has, however, followed the NTSB's 2003 recommendation to prohibit drivers with licenses in the first two stages from using hand held electronic devices to call, email, or text message while driving.

Iowa Adopts Five of Eleven NTSB Heavy Drinking Elements

In 2000, the NTSB recommended that states implement all 11 elements of its model program to eliminate heavy drinking driving. According to the NTSB, hard core drinking drivers (repeat offenders or drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15 or greater) were involved in at least 53.5 percent of all alcohol related deaths in 2006.

The state of Iowa has only adopted five of the model program's 11 elements. In particular, the state failed to implement sobriety checkpoints, habitual offender lists, and aggravated BAC offenses. Some say, Iowa's lack of focus on habitual offenders and its failure to create harsher penalties for higher BACs places drivers on Iowa roads in more danger.

Moving Forward

Iowa has implemented many highway safety measures, but certainly not enough. Small changes can make a significant impact. Danielle Roeber, an NTSB investigator, said simply implementing the NTSB's "belts and booze" related recommendations could almost eliminate highway deaths.

As Iowa's population continues to grow, so does the number of cars and people traveling on the roads. For this reason, the NTSB's recommendations become even more critical to protecting citizens from vehicle accidents and fatalities.

Contact a Motor Vehicle Accident Attorney

If you've been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact an experienced automobile accident attorney. Your lawyer can discuss legal options and remedies available.