America’s Poor Performance in the ‘Enforcement’ Aspect of Highway Safety

May 2017

In the Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015 — currently the most recent edition — the World Health Organisation, on page 18, has a section headed ‘Many countries need to strengthen road safety legislation’.

Given the respect the USA rightfully has in the world in other disciplines, it would be reasonable to expect the country to fare really well in this examination of standards, but unfortunately America is one of the worst-performing developed nations in the world in the context of highway safety and this ‘enforcement’ aspect of it proves to be no different.

Here’s part of what WHO writes on the overall subject:

“Road safety laws improve road user behaviour – a critical factor in road safety – to reduce road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. A number of countries have achieved sustained reductions in traffic-related injuries and fatalities through effective road safety programmes that have included legislative change. The most positive changes to road user behaviour happen when road safety legislation is supported by strong and sustained enforcement, and where the public is made aware of the reasons behind the new law and the consequences of noncompliance.

“This section reports on an assessment of countries’ current legislation to meet five key behavioural risk factors for road traffic injuries: speed, drink–driving, failure to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints. There is a strong evidence base showing the positive impacts that legislation on each of these risk factors can have on reducing crashes, injuries and deaths.

“…[R]oad safety legislation is a dynamic field and that best practice evolves over time. This means that even high-performing countries constantly need to review their legislation, revising and updating it to meet the latest evidence base (this report explores two strong examples of this – drug–driving and mobile phone use while driving – where strong evidence bases have yet to be developed). Additionally, while the evidence base may act as a “blueprint” for laws relating to many risk factors for road traffic injuries,2 countries must take account of their local legislative context, the traffic situation, and a number of other country-specific factors that may all impact road safety legislation and the manner and speed at which legislative reform should be pursued.

Enforcement is vital to the success of road safety laws

“While there is clear evidence that enforcement is critical to the success of laws, the levels of enforcement required for maximum impact are often less readily available and depend on factors such as political will, available resources and competing priorities at a national level. In countries where legislation has not previously been accompanied by enforcement, particularly visible and high levels of enforcement may be needed to persuade the public that breaking the law in future may well result in a penalty…” [End of excerpt]


Five world maps follow, in the WHO report, but for the purpose of simplicity in this blog post, I have changed the colours into letter-grades: ‘A’ for green/good, ‘B’ for orange/moderate, and ‘C’ for red/poor.

So, for these five, clearly critical areas of enforcement highway safety, the USA receives the following results:

  • Urban speed laws (p23): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C
  • Motorcycle helmet laws and helmet standards (p27): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C
  • Drink–driving laws (p32): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .B
  • Seat-belt laws (p34): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . B
  • Countries meeting best practice criteria on child restraint laws (p37):  B

Personal footnote:  From everything I have seen in the near-20 years I have been in the USA, by far the biggest responsibility for the poor results from US highway safety legislation lies entirely in political ignorance of the facts and the vested interests of politicians turning their heads away from the best interests and maximum safety of the American people.

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America


Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

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