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Massachusetts Seat Belt Use Down in 2011

According to a new University of Massachusetts, Amherst, study, use of seat belts is decreasing in Massachusetts. Seat belt use is down to 73% in Massachusetts, according to the study, with the national rate at approximately 85%. This is concerning to a Massachusetts injury lawyer because seat belt use is directly correlated with saving lives. Massachusetts is among the lowest use states in the nation. Teenager seat belt use according to the UMass study was down 3.9%, to only 69%; African American seat belt use was down to 65%; and, with Hispanics, the rate was only 54%. Commercial vehicle drivers were even lower, at 47%. Between men and women, the rate is 68% for men and 80% for women. The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission studies conclude that having a primary seat belt law would boost rates by 10%!

Pending in the Massachusetts State house is legislation entitled “Natalie’s Bill” which would require seat belts as a “primary ” law, meaning it would allow police officers to pull over a vehicle when the primary reason was for failing to wear a seat belt. Studies show that this results in a higher seat belt usage, associated with fewer injuries and deaths.
 
The name of the proposed law is based on a young woman who died in Massachusetts in 2004. Natalie DeLeon was 21 years old when she went for a short drive with her boyfriend. When her boyfriend swerved to avoid another vehicle, Natalie, not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle and died as a result of a brain injury.
 
Belts Ensure a Safer Tomorrow (BELTS) is a coalition with dozens of members from vast portions of the state including: Children’s Hospital, AAA Southern New England, Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Fire Chiefs, and the Massachusetts Medical Society
According to Massachusetts Children’s Hospital, a primary seat belt law could save the Commonwealth “over $170 million in costs associated with medical care, lost productivity and damage to property” and would save over $55 million on health insurance costs.
 
What is holding legislators back? One argument is that with a primary law, minorities would get pulled over more. That is, the law could have a disproportionate impact on minorities. However, the National Highway Safety Administration has studied this issue and concludes that there is no correlation. Another argument is freedom to make one’s own decision about whether or not to wear a seat belt. However, others argue that when driving on public roads, and using public hospital monies to attend to those that are injured, the state should have the right to make seat belt use primary.
 
We again point to evidence from around the world. In 1997, Princess Di was killed and the fact that she was not wearing a seat belt was considered a “substantial contributing factor” leading to her death. We represented a young women in town just north of Boston who suffered a broken back and testified, “if I hadn’t been wearing my seat belt I would be dead. I know it.”
 
The law now essentially says that anyone in a passenger vehicle shall wear a seat belt. The law specifically says, however, that it can only be enforced “when an operator of a motor vehicle has been stopped for a violation of the motor vehicle laws or some other offense.” Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90, Section 13A.