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Florida is one of 12 states that fall “dangerously behind” laws recommended by the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety. Among the problems the group found in Florida: Inadequate primary rear seat belt laws, which mean law enforcement cannot stop a vehicle simply because a seat belt is unbuckled.

Nationwide, 47% of the 22,697 people killed in passenger vehicle riders were not wearing seat belts.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 1,099 lives were saved in Florida in 2017 because of seat belt use. Had others been buckled in, though, it said 181 more lives could have been saved.

Florida also got low marks for not requiring motorcycle riders of all ages to wear helmets. It’s one of 31 states without that requirement. The state allows riders over 21 to go without a helmet as long as they have a certain amount of insurance coverage.

The state also scored low in child safety laws. Florida is one of 35 states the group said do not require infants and toddlers to sit in a rear-facing child restraint system at least through age 2. The report also said Florida lacks a good law requiring children who have outgrown the height and weight limit of a forward-facing safety to sit in a booster seat until he or she is 8 years old and 57 inches tall. Thirty-four states have such laws. State law does require children age 5 and under to be “secured properly in a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device,” and children up to age 3 “must be in child restraint devices of a separate carrier or a vehicle manufacturer’s integrated child seat,” according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Children under 18 must wear seat belts.

Florida does somewhat better as children get older. In the decade between 2009 and 2018, the Advocates report found. There were 3,533 fatalities caused by motor vehicle crashes involving drivers aged 15 to 20. Nationally, the crash rate for teenage drivers is three times the rate of older people. Florida gets good ratings for some restrictions on young drivers, but falters in the report because of no nighttime restrictions for such drivers or restrictions on passengers.

The state gets middling marks for efforts to discourage distracted driving. While it bans text messaging during driving, the organization finds its efforts to restrict cell phone use as inadequate. The report aims to promote the idea that as technology improves, so does the potential to prevent crashes that result in injuries and death.

Big challenges remain. Catherine Chase, the organization’s president, cited “critical safety issues that must be addressed,” including standards to measure driver assistance technology and autonomous vehicles, further measures to combat drug-impaired driving, better safety for rear seat passengers and more protection for pedestrians and bicycle riders.

BY DAVID LIGHTMAN, MIAMI HERALD

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