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Public favors road safety initiatives

A new national survey conducted by the Humphrey School's Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) found that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to reduce road fatalities, including many that are considered to be too contentious to implement.

CERS researchers conducted an extensive review of research related to various road safety public policies and defined six public policies that are particularly effective in reducing rural road fatalities, says Lee Munnich, Jr., a senior fellow and CERS director. The policies include: Primary seat belt laws, sobriety checkpoints, a motorcycle helmet mandate, graduated driver's licenses, automated speed enforcement, and breathalyzer-based ignition locks.

Adoption of many of these evidence-based policies has been limited in part by a perception among some policymakers that the initiatives lack public support. However, according to Munnich, the CERS research findings call these assumptions into question

"Research can tell us which policies will save lives, but many policymakers have been assuming that they are unpopular and that the public is opposed to them," Munnich says. "But these findings show remarkably strong public support."

Of the 1,205 people surveyed:

64% support "enforcing speed limits through the use of automated camera and radar devices."
72% support "allowing law enforcement officials to stop and ticket drivers for failure to obey seatbelt laws."
82% support "allowing law enforcement officials to stop drivers at checkpoints and ticket those driving drunk."
84% support "requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet."
88% support "requiring new drivers to gain experience and skills gradually over time in low-risk environments before giving them a full driver's license."
88% support "requiring people convicted of drunk driving to install a device on their car that locks the ignition if the driver fails an automated in-vehicle breathalyzer test."
Large majorities of self-described conservatives, moderates, liberals, rural citizens, urban citizens, and suburban citizens all supported the six policies. Males and females both overwhelmingly supported the policies, though significantly larger majorities of females were in support.

Overall, 91 percent of survey respondents said that it was important that their local lawmakers work to improve the safety of roads in their area. Political philosophy was not a significant factor in their support: 92 percent of conservatives, 86 percent of moderates, and 92 percent of liberals thought it was important.

"It's unusual to see this much support across the board for any public policy issue," says Munnich. "We now know that the public supports road safety policies. It will be interesting to see what policymakers do with that information."

The survey was sponsored by CERS, and conducted by Critical Insights of Portland, Maine. The findings represent the responses of a randomized national probability sample of 1,205 registered voters who drive at least once per week. The survey was conducted from March 23 through May 6, 2010. The margin of error for questions in which the entire sample is considered is +/- 2.8 percent. The margin of error is higher when smaller sub-populations are analyzed.

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