Study co-author James Macinko, a professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, and colleagues examined 27 types of laws, which ranged from child restraint laws to beer taxes to mandatory fines for DUI violations, across all 50 states from 1980 to 2010.
The researchers chose these laws because they were aimed at changing individual behaviors concerning alcohol consumption and/or traffic safety and there was evidence supporting their effectiveness in improving health outcomes.
In 1980, the proportion between high- and low-adopting states differed by 8 percent, but grew to nearly 30 percent in 2009.
To determine the association between the adoption of alcohol and traffic legislation and road safety, the researchers examined the relationship between the proportion of laws put on the books and deaths resulting from traffic accidents.
Controlling for other risk factors, such as state socioeconomic levels, unemployment levels and population density, the researchers found being in the top 25 percent of laws passed was associated with a 14.5 percent decrease in the traffic fatality rate compared with being in the bottom quarter. In fact, even being in the second-lowest quarter was associated with 5 percent decrease in the traffic fatality rate compared to being in the bottom quarter, the study said.
"Lagging behind in adopting the full range of the laws is not a theoretical concern -- more people are dying as a result," lead author Diana Silver said in a statement. "Policymakers and advocates should focus attention on states where such protections are the weakest and bring them up to speed."
The findings were published in the journal Public Health.