Safe at home? Not if home is Arizona, new report card on safety says

Arizona fared poorly on the National Safety Council’s national new national report card on safety. Council President Deborah Hersman speaks at the release of the report with, from left, Rodrigo Garcia and Thomas Goeltz. (Photo by Joe Gilmore/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Arizona got an “F” for its safety policies, scoring particularly poorly on traffic safety, in a new national ranking of how well states are prepared to deter preventable deaths.

The report by the National Safety Council ranked states for safety on the road, at home and at work and the results do “not paint a very favorable picture of safety in the U.S.,” where 11 states got a grade of “F” and none got an “A.”

Arizona ranked 44th overall, but 48th for road safety, where it was nicked for weak or nonexistent laws on child passengers, seat belts, vulnerable road users and distracted driving.

Safety council President and CEO Deborah Hersman, speaking at the release of the report Tuesday, said the country is “not even close to where we need to be if we’re going to prevent the most common types of accidents that occur on our roads, in our homes and communities and at work.”

For Arizona, the biggest problem area was road safety. While motor vehicle fatalities nationally have risen 14 percent since 2014, Arizona has seen almost a 23 percent increase in the same period. In 2016, the state had 962 motor vehicle fatalities, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Hersman said that child booster seats, a helmet law for children and motorcyclists, and restrictions on teenage driving would all help to eliminate many of Arizona’s “preventable deaths.”

“There’s a lot of room for improvement in Arizona,” Hersman said. “They’re getting an ‘F’ on highway safety and the people that are paying are the residents involved who are in those fatal crashes.”

The state took steps forward this year when legislators approved SB 1080, signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in April, to address the “national epidemic” of distracted driving by cracking down on teenage drivers using wireless devices.

-Cronkite News video by Emma Lockhart

Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is a longtime proponent of restrictions on distracted driving and he welcome the passage of SB 1080. But he said it is “absurd” to think that SB 1080 is enough.

Farley said most Arizonans agree that the state needs a full statewide ban and “there’s no reason we don’t have one.”

“It’s time to end the partisan games because this is not a partisan issue,” Farley said. The driver that kills you “doesn’t care if you’re red or blue.”

Farley, who said he was the first lawmaker in the nation to introduce distracted driving legislation, said he’s not going to stop until he sees results, vowing to continue introducing bills and urging voters to get rid of any lawmaker who doesn’t get on board.

At the safety council press conference, the call for more-stringent distracted driving laws was also sounded by Thomas Goeltz, a Wisconsin native whose daughter was killed by a distracted driver.

“When are we going to wake up?” Goeltz asked during the discussion. “When are we going to do something about it?”

Increasing fines and eliminating legal loopholes for those charged with distracted driving are two examples he mentioned. He said the driver in his daughter’s death admitted to being distracted and drugged, but is not facing felony charges.

“That’s the crime in the case,” Goeltz said. “If this happens to you and your family, you’re not going to get justice either.”

Hersman did say that while Arizona may not have performed well, the report allows state officials to see what specifically can be done to reduce preventable deaths.

It’s an “opportunity for Arizona is to learn from its neighbors and to learn from other states across the nation,” she said.