Recent Accidents Spark Seatbelt Enforcement Debate in Massachusetts

Recent car crashes in December involving drivers or passengers not wearing seatbelts has resulted in a strong response from seatbelt advocates. Advocates are calling for stricter enforcement of the state’s seat belt law after these car crashes, many of which ended fatally. They are arguing that this is more than enough evidence that seatbelts save lives and they are calling on lawmakers to act in the New Year.

Massachusetts law already requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts; however, police can only enforce the rule if they have stopped the vehicle for another violation, such as running a red light or speeding. Senator Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, and Representative Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, are the chief sponsors of a bill that would make Massachusetts the 32nd state in the nation to let police pull over drivers for seat belt violations.

A recent UMass-Amherst study found that approximately 73 percent of Massachusetts drivers use seat belts, which is the lowest seatbelt usage rate in the United States and has thus sparked this debate. This number is also slightly lower than last year´s percentage of seatbelt users. All of the accident victims of the four accidents that occurred in December were young adults. Deborah Pentecost, a trauma program manager at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, witnesses the flux of young victims entered into the emergency room who were not wearing seatbelts and believes that the message must also come from education. She commented “It’s the younger population that takes the risks…I think we’ve gotten the message to adults that have kids…and the population over 50.”

Mary Maguire, a spokeswoman for AAA Southern New England and co-chairwoman of Belts Ensure a Safer Tomorrow (BEST), a coalition of about 60 health, law enforcement and driver-safety groups, said “When there’s stronger, more effective enforcement, compliance increases.” BEST estimates that a stricter seat belt law could save Massachusetts approximately $1 billion over six years, because of avoided hospital bills, lower insurance premiums, and eligibility for federal grants.

The legislation to update the seatbelt law died in a tie vote in the House in 2004. In 2006, a similar bill passed both chambers in 2006, but was later shot down in a procedural vote in the House when three representatives changed their votes. Robert Fitzpatrick, Senator Jehlen’s chief of staff, said “We think we have the votes in the Senate…(In the House) it’s hard to know.”

Opponents to the bill, such as civil liberty groups, argue that the stricter seat belt law could give the opportunity to police to easily abuse the law by making unnecessary traffic stops or as an excuse for racial profiling.

If you have been involved in a road accident, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced Massachusetts car accident lawyer as soon as possible.


Groups calling for tougher seat belt laws, Taunton Daily Gazette, January 5, 2012
Update sought on Massachusetts seat belt law, The Patriot Ledger, January 3, 2012
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If you have been in a car accident, an experienced Massachusetts accident lawyer can advise you.

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