Traffic safety laws are showing positive results

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By Terry Mills

One of the country’s great success stories over the last several decades has been the steep and steady decline in highway fatalities. It’s a welcome trend that has been especially pronounced here in Kentucky. According to the state’s Office of Highway Safety, you have to go back to 1949 to find a year that had fewer than the Commonwealth had in 2013. Helping that along is a variety of traffic-safety laws the General Assembly has adopted over the years. Those range from lengthening the time it takes teenagers to get an unrestricted driver’s license to cracking down on drunk and drugged driving.
Making sure people are secure in their vehicle has long been a safety concern as well, especially when it comes to children. Kentucky is not alone in this area, of course, with all 50 states requiring child-safety seats for infants and toddlers and all but South Dakota and Florida requiring booster seats for older children still too small for traditional seatbelts.
A report early this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores how much of a positive impact the increased use of these seats has had across the country. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of highway fatalities among children 12 and younger dropped by 43 percent.
On Thursday last week, the House voted for legislation designed to build on these gains. If House Bill 199 becomes law, the minimum height for booster seats would remain at 40 inches, but the upper limit would rise from 50 to 57 inches.  The age requirement, meanwhile, would go from seven to eight in most cases.
That legislation is one of the House’s and Governor Beshear’s top priorities this session. During his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he noted that this change would meet the recommendations of federal highway safety officials and pediatricians alike.
In a related item, I am sponsoring legislation (House Bill 33), which would improve safety of children in school zones and construction workers in construction zones. This change would prohibit the entry of data into any handheld electronic device when driving through these areas. We must do everything possible to keep our school children and construction workers safe.
A bill aimed at teaching financial basics to seniors, students and parents recently cleared the House. House Bill 223 establishes the Kentucky Financial Literacy Commission, which would include a board of directors charged with implementing educational opportunities to improve the financial literacy of the citizens of Kentucky. Publications, a website and printed materials would be designed and disseminated among elementary age students and adults to teach the importance of a savings account, how to open a checking account, planning for retirement or applying for a mortgage. House Bill 223 passed with a vote of 94-0 and will go to the Senate.
Another piece of legislation making it through the House would have the General Assembly’s administrative arm, known as the Legislative Research Commission, study whether counties should have the option to move toward centralized voting centers rather than precincts, and whether the voting period should be extended.
If approved, this study could help us better understand whether these moves would be more helpful or hurtful.
Outside of the legislative process, but still good news for the state, Governor Beshear announced on Thursday that Kentucky saw a sharp increase in exports last year. Sales went up 14 percent, which was the second-highest rate among the states and seven times higher than the national average.
Overall, Kentucky shipped more than $25 billion worth of goods and services to nearly 200 countries in 2013. Saudi Arabia was highlighted as a major new destination for our motor vehicles, with that nation buying $610 million worth in 2013, up from $38 million in 2012.
While we still have a way to go to get our economy where we would like it to be, the good news about our export growth shows that we are making progress.
This week marks the halfway point of the legislative session, meaning we only have about 30 working days remaining. It promises to be a busy time as the pace of bills through the House and Senate continues to quicken and we finalize the state’s two-year budget.
There is still plenty of time to let me know your thoughts or concerns about any legislation. You can always write to me at Room 329G, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Terry.Mills@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 1-800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305. I hope to hear from you soon.