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Drivers be aware of new vehicle safety laws and rules coming in 2013

Consumer Reports News: December 28, 2012 12:08 PM

The start of the new year typically means a host of automotive safety and traffic laws being added to the books. As you drive into 2013, be aware of these new laws in your state and surrounding areas and how they could affect your driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently trying to push through their final rule by Dec. 31st to require backup cameras on all vehicles. Last February, the rule was delayed to the end of the year. If it does pass, all new vehicles will be required to have a back up camera by 2014. A number of new models, especially SUVs, are already making these helpful cameras standard.

On New Year's Day, Maine will strengthen their teen graduated driver licensing law to extend the intermediate phase of driving when teens cannot drive passengers or drive at night. The law will increase the time from six months to nine months, so the earliest a teen can have a full unrestricted license is at age 16 and 9 months.

Distracted driving laws are slowing down in the coming year. There are already 32 states that ban texting, although only 10 states have handheld cell-phone bans. On July 1st, West Virginia will enact a primary ban on handheld cell-phone use, which means police officers will be able to pull over drivers for only that offense. While this is the only distracted law scheduled, there may be others that get passed as the year progresses.

On October 1st, Missouri will be the 17th state to require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers—even first offenders. These systems require a driver convicted of DWI to install a breath-test device that is connected to the vehicle's ignition. If the reading shows a blood alcohol content of over a predetermined level, the vehicle will not start.

In 2013, NHTSA will also assess the research, technology, and the potential benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle communications to help drivers avoid crashes. The agency will decide on next steps and see if mandating the technology will be feasible. NHTSA claims the wireless technology that allows vehicles to "talk to each other" can help address up to 80 percent of non-impaired vehicle crashes. (See our recent report on how vehicle-to-vehicle communication can help prevent crashes.)

Looking to the future, NHTSA is proposing a rule to require automakers to install event data recorders (EDRs) that would collect specific safety-related data in all light passenger vehicles beginning September 1, 2014.

The good news is that cars are getting safer with each passing year, but remember, the driver plays a key role in vehicle safety.

Liza Barth

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