The Iowa Department of Transportation’s new long-term safety plan proposes more restrictions on teen drivers and a motorcycle helmet law. The "Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan" is now required by federal officials as part of the transportation funding process. DOT safety engineer, Tom Welch, says a group of safety professionals from various agencies and departments developed the Iowa plan.

Welch says the plan focuses on changing driver behavior as behavior is a factor in 90-percent of fatal crashes, a primary factor in over two-thirds of fatal crashes. He says Iowa is a relatively safe driving state, but there has been an increase in single vehicle fatal crashes due to distracted driving, speeding and alcohol. One of the recommendations is that all passengers in a vehicle be required to wear seatbelts.

Welch says individuals in the backseat who’re unbelted can become a projectile and injured front seat drivers. He says young drivers are a concern and the plan asks the legislature to look at restricting the number of passengers in a young driver’s car, and prohibiting cellphone use by young drivers. Welch says the plan says the state should consider some type of motorcycle helmet law.

Welch says motorcycle fatalities are increasing across the U.S. and Iowa. "While perhaps a mandate for everyone to wear a helmet may not be acceptable, is there room for a compromise requiring maybe those individuals under the age of 18 on a motorcycle to wear a helmet?," Welch says, "or a first year user of a motorcycle." Welch says the group hopes that instituting things like cellphone bans and helmet laws in young people first will help protect the most inexperienced drivers, and eventually lead to a change in attitude overall.

Welch says there are some things that can be done without legislative action, such as special efforts targeting traffic violations. Welch says the DOT can also implement some design changes. He says they can add shoulder rumble strips that will alert distracted drivers when they start to go onto the shoulder of the roadway or into the median. Welch says they are also going to install more cable restraints in the median to prevent cars from crossing the median, and they’re looking at using more roundabouts in designs.

Welch says the group will work with lawmakers on the issue that need their action. Welch says they’ll provide documentation and data to support the legislative efforts to see if there’s support for the ideas. Welch says the traffic fatalities in the state have flattened out at around 440, despite lots of good work by the legislature and others to make roadways safer, and they need to do more. Welch says the CHSP’s motto is that "One Death is One Too Many" when it comes to Iowa roadways. 

View the full CHSP report here.