There were 33,561 people killed on U.S. roads in 2013, an increase of 3.3 percent over the prior year, according to government statistics. At the same time, as deaths were increasing for the first time in seven years, lawmakers only passed 10 new safety laws, according to the annual report issued by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. That's down from 22 the previous year.
"Are they doing enough? A strong no," said Catherine Chase, one of the board members. "There's been a reversal in a long trend of declining traffic deaths and state activity is on the decline."
She says deadly gaps remain in state laws, noting there are more than 300 needed across the country to patch the holes. Each year, the group tracks state-by-state laws that cover areas it sees as essential to saving lives: occupant protection, booster seats for kids, teen-driving programs, drunk driving, distracted driving and motorcycle helmet usage.
They then assign each state a color that indicates whether the state's laws are advanced (green), mediocre (yellow) or weak (red). Ten states earned the highest marks this year: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.
Eleven earned the red rating for having "a dangerous lack of basic safety laws," the report said: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Three states – Hawaii, Indiana and Maine – improved their ratings from last year's report. Hawaii jumped because it passed laws that mandated rear passengers be buckled in seat belts and strengthened graduated-drivers licensing laws aimed at keeping teen drivers safe.
Alabama, Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire fell into the worst group, in part because they have no laws that allow primary enforcement of rear seatbelt laws. No state has all 15 of the safety laws that the group recommends.
"Lives are lost, and lifelong, debilitating injuries are occurring because of inaction and indifference," Chase said.
Of most concern to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a nonprofit comprised of safety, insurance and consumer advocates, were 19 different attempts to repeal mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists in 2013. Deaths among motorcyclists have increased in each of the past three years. Last year, they rose 7.1 percent as 4,743 motorcyclists were killed. Ten times as many died riding without helmets in states that do not require their use than in states that have mandatory laws, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"We're losing ground on that issue," said Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator and board member of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "Every year more universal helmet laws come under attack, despite the fact motorcycle deaths have jumped."
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.