Nebraska and Iowa are among 11 states that lack fundamental traffic safety laws, a recent report on highway safety says.
But help might be on the way.
The Cornhusker and Hawkeye States and nine others earned a red rating, which means safety protections were poor, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety report.
Ten states received a green, or good, rating. The rest received yellow ratings for the moderate adoption of what the report says are optimal safety laws.
Existing Nebraska laws that require seat belt use for adults and children and ban texting while driving would get tougher under Legislative Bill 807, introduced by State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff.
The bill would make seat belt and texting violations primary offenses, allowing law officers to stop drivers for those infractions alone. Currently, drivers can be ticketed for those violations only after being stopped for some other traffic infraction.
A hearing on the bill, known as the Nebraska Roadway Safety Act, is set for Tuesday in Lincoln.
Rose White of AAA Nebraska and Beverly Reicks, president and CEO of the National Safety Council Nebraska, said they strongly support Harms' effort.
“If LB 807 is passed into law, we would move from being one of the most dangerous states for drivers to a state that is significantly advanced in implementing effective and meaningful laws that prevent traffic crashes and fatalities,'' White said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says seat belts saved an estimated 12,174 lives of passengers age 5 and older in 2012.
Last year Nebraska recorded 190 crashes that resulted in 212 fatalities, state officials said. Of the 172 passenger-vehicle fatalities, 129 were not using seat belts.
Since 1993, the year Nebraska's secondary safety belt law was enacted, 3,359 unrestrained people have been killed on state roads, White said.
“This issue can no longer be ignored,'' White said. “Last year alone, 71 people were ejected from their vehicles.''
Of the 30 teenagers who died last year on Nebraska roads, Reicks said, 25 were not buckled in. The passage of LB 807 would reduce that number and fatalities overall, she said.
At the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, officials were “ a little surprised'' by the report.
“We're extremely proud of our traffic safety record in Iowa,'' said Pat Hoye, bureau chief.
Iowa recorded 318 road fatalities last year, said Hoye, a drop of 47 deaths over 2012 — the biggest percentage decline in the United States.
And Iowa's seat belt law already allows a law officer to stop a vehicle if the driver is not using a seat belt.
“Are we doing things right in Iowa?'' Hoye said. “We have a 92 percent seat belt compliance rate and one of the lowest alcohol-fatality rates in the nation.''
Nevertheless, “318 fatalities are too many,'' Hoye said. “We need to be taking more aggressive actions.''
The Iowa Legislature is doing its part to keep roads safe, he said, by taking up distracted-driver issues this year.
The states in the report, prepared by a coalition of safety and business groups, were ranked based on the adoption of 15 safety laws considered optimal.
The laws include those restricting driver text messaging; requiring booster seats for children and helmets for all motorcycle riders; and treating seat belt violations as a primary offense.
States in addition to Nebraska and Iowa with red ratings are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Illinois and Oregon were the top states for safety laws, with 12 each. Others at the top of the rankings: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Rhode Island, Washington and the District of Columbia.
New Hampshire is the only state without a seat belt law.
South Dakota had the fewest safety laws in place, two: restricting night driving by teenagers and prohibiting open containers.