(09/30/2008)
By Bob Weaver

So far this week, there is another story to add to West Virginia's worsts.

Federal statistics show that young drivers in the Mountain State are more likely to die in crashes in West Virginia than elsewhere.

In 2006, the state's death rate was 70 percent higher than the national average.

Thirty-six West Virginians ages 16 to 20 died that year.

University of Minnesota Center for Excellence in Rural Safety Director Lee Munnich says fatality rates are twice as high in rural areas, where some drivers still believe more people are injured or killed if they wear seat belts.

Some experts say West Virginia's laws don't go far enough. Failure to wear a seat belt, for example, is a secondary offense.

But Steve Dale with the Division of Motor Vehicles says West Virginia is ahead with some laws, including one banning juveniles from using cell phones while driving.

But in West Virginia, the legislature tends to walk around safety issues, like with ATVs whose manufacturers say should never be driven on paved highways.

Or when overweight coal trucks broke the overweight laws in the deaths of numerous West Virginians, they took care of the problem.

They just increased the weight limit by 40,000 pounds or so, the trucks no longer break the law.

"Mountaineers are free," is a prominent cultural belief that defies the rules.


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