A new report finds New Jersey should be doing more to promote highway safety.

The report by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety 2020 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws ranks New Jersey with 30 other states that need improvement in some highway safety laws.

The analysis considers five categories — occupant protection, child passenger safety, teen driving, imparted driving and distracted driving — and then ranks each state as either green, (good) yellow (caution) or red (danger) depending on their current traffic safety laws.

Tara Gill, senior director of advocacy and state legislation for the Advocates alliance, said New Jersey has many of the most important optimal traffic safety laws in the nation.

“However, we only give you all a yellow rating because you have not passed a primary enforcement rear seat belt requirement.”

Such a law would require all occupants in the rear seat of a vehicle to wear seat belts and allow law enforcement officers to stop and ticket the driver for a violation of the seat belt law. New Jersey cops can only give a ticket for rear-seat passenger seat belts after pulling over a car for a different legitimate reason.

She noted half of all traffic fatalities involve passengers who were not wearing a seat belt at the time of an accident.

Gill said it’s also important for New Jersey to upgrade its distracted driver laws and specifically prohibit drivers from watching movies, videos or playing games on their dash-mounted cell phones while they’re behind the wheel.

“People tend to think a hands-free law is distraction free when it is absolutely not a distraction-free law,” she said. “Anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the task of driving, their mind off the task of driving, and diverts their gaze, is distracting. It’s going to contribute to crashes and injuries.”

Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti, D-Hudson, would expand distracted driving violations to include additional forms of communication on a smartphone or other device, including watching videos or participating in a video conference.

The report also recommends New Jersey adopt tougher supervised driving requirements and nighttime restrictions for those holding graduated driver’s licenses.

Rhode Island, Washington state, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, California, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., received green ratings. New Jersey was among 31 states with yellow. Twelve states earned a red rating for lagging in the adoption of the recommended optimal traffic safety laws.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer.

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The 16 optimal traffic safety laws in the report:

  1. A primary enforcement front seat belt law that allows police to stop and ticket the driver for a violation of the seat belt law for front-seat occupants. No other violation need occur first.
  2. A primary enforcement rear seat belt law.
  3. An all-rider motorcycle helmet law.
  4. A law requiring rear-facing child passenger seats through age 2.
  5. A booster seat law.
  6. Minimum age of 16 for a learner’s permit.
  7. Requiring teen drivers to be supervised by a licensed adult driver at all times during a six-month learner's stage.
  8. Requiring a teen driver to receive at least 50 hours of behind-the-wheel training, 10 of which must be at night with an adult licensed driver.
  9. A nighttime driving restriction provision for teen drivers in which unsupervised driving should be prohibited from at least 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  10. Limiting the number of passengers who may legally ride with a teen driver without adult supervision. The optimal limit is no more than one non-familial passenger younger than age 21.
  11. Age 18 for unrestricted license.
  12. Requiring ignition interlock devices for all impaired driving offenders.
  13. A law or enhanced penalty devoted to punishing an impaired drover who endangers a minor.
  14. A law prohibiting open containers of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.
  15. A law prohibiting drivers from sending or reading text messages on a handheld device except in an emergency.
  16. Prohibiting graduated driver's license holders from using any hand-held or hands-free devices except in an emergency.
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