05:51pm Sunday 22 October 2017

New national survey finds that Americans support road safety policies once thought too contentious to implement

CERS researchers recently conducted an extensive review of research related to various road safety public policies. The research finds that six public policies are particularly effective in reducing rural road fatalities, says Lee Munnich, CERS director. They 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 policies lack public support. However, the findings of this national survey call these assumptions into question, Munnich says.

Of the 1,205 people surveyed, here are the findings in each category:

  • Primary seat belt laws. “Allowing law enforcement officials to stop and ticket drivers for failure to obey seatbelt laws.”  72 percent support (42 percent “very supportive,” 31 percent “somewhat supportive”)
  • Sobriety checkpoints. “Allowing law enforcement officials to stop drivers at checkpoints and ticket those driving drunk.” 82 percent support (58 percent “very supportive,” 25 percent “somewhat supportive”)
  • Motorcycle helmet mandate. “Requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet.” 84 percent support (67 percent “very supportive,” 18 percent “somewhat supportive”)
  • Graduated driver’s licenses. “Requiring new drivers to gain experience and skills.” gradually over time in low-risk environments before giving them a full driver’s license.” 88 percent support (61 percent “very supportive,” 27 percent “somewhat supportive”)
  • Automated speed enforcement. “Enforcing speed limits through the use of automated camera and radar devices.” 64 percent support (29 percent “very supportive,” 35 percent “somewhat supportive”)
  • Breathalyzer-based ignition locks. “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.” 88 percent support (68 percent “very supportive,” 20 percent “somewhat supportive”)

“The research tells us which policies save lives, but many policymakers have been assuming that the public opposed those policies,” Munnich says. “But these findings show remarkably strong public support.”

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 supported the policies.

Overall, 91 percent of Americans said that it was important that their local lawmakers work to improve the safety of roads in their areas. Ninety-two 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,” Munnich says. “We know which policies save lives and we now know the public supports those 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 to 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.

Contacts: Patty Mattern, University News Service, mattern@umn.edu, 612-624-2801


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