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Is It Time to Think About Mandatory Seat Belt Laws?

Motorists in Massachusetts know that it is mandatory to wear a seat belt, but most also know that a police officer is not permitted to pull them over for not wearing one unless they commit some other traffic offense such as speeding, making an unsafe lane change or failing to stop at red traffic signal. This means that the mandatory seat belt law is only a secondary offense and our drivers have seized on that to rank 48th in the nation in seat belt use with a state-wide usage rate of 78%. The national average for seat belt usage is around 90%. From 2015 to 2016, car accident fatalities in our state soared by 13%. and some officials have reported that seat belt usage has dropped over this time to as low as 74%.

Do we really need to have this conversation? Seat belts save lives and this is not a fact on which reasonable minds may differ. Studies overwhelmingly demonstrate that front seat passengers and drivers who wear seat belts reduce their risk of being in a fatal car accident by 45% and of sustaining serious injuries by 50%.

Still, we persist in claiming that our privacy and freedom is at risk. Some opponents of making seat belt violations a primary offense, though, have legitimately asserted that this only increases stops based on racial profiling. The ACLU of Massachusetts cited Florida as an example when it made not wearing a seat belt a primary offense. It reported that there was a 4-fold increase in police ticketing African-American motorists over Caucasian drivers in some counties.

As with any legislation that may intrude on some privacy rights, there is a balancing of individual rights with public policy. In this context, you may ask if your privacy rights are more important than increasing the risk of sustaining serious or fatal injuries.

When not wearing a seat belt, you are 30 times more likely to be ejected, which increases your chances of sustaining a fatal injury by 75%. Moreover, keep in mind that a person who is unrestrained in an accident becomes a projectile who is likely to injure other occupants. You are also far more likely to lose control as a driver if not belted. To underscore the safety issues, a traffic safety officer from Burlingame, Massachusetts remarked that in his 28 years of service, he had never had to unbuckle a dead person from a car.

Another Attempt in the Massachusetts House

A bill has been offered in the House, H-1304, that would make seat belt violations a primary offense. A violation would not affect auto insurance surcharges, however, and police would not have probable cause to search a violator’s vehicle based solely on a seat belt violation. Fines would be $50 for the driver and an additional $50 for each passenger not wearing a seat belt.

It remains to be seen if legislators will place safety over privacy or possible racial profiling concerns. Regardless, all drivers are encouraged to wear their seat belts out of commonsense and for their safety and that of others.

How Does a Seat Belt Violation Affect an Injury Claim?

If you are injured in an auto accident and you were not restrained, then your claim for compensation can be complicated. Massachusetts is a modified comparative negligence state where you can claim compensation in an accident so long as your own degree of fault is less than 51%.

In an injury claim, injured victims and their car accident lawyer have the burden of proving fault. While you may prove that another motorist rear-ended you at a stop sign or red light or ran a red light, you also must prove that the accident caused your injuries. If you were unrestrained, then the other party’s insurance carrier or defense lawyer will try to claim that your failure to wear a seat belt constituted negligence and contributed to or was a cause of your injuries.  While this may not be admissible to a jury; they will ask.  In any car accident, you will be asked at some point if you were wearing a seat belt.

If your injuries were sustained because your head struck the steering wheel or windshield, then at least some degree of fault may be attributable to your not wearing a seat belt. In many cases, biomechanical experts from both sides may offer conflicting testimony over whether being unrestrained caused certain injuries or not.

Again, so long as your own degree of fault, if any, was less than 51%, then you can collect compensation. The amount you receive will be reduced by your degree of fault. If you were 40% at fault and your total damages are $60,000, then you would receive $36,000. In such cases, it is essential that you have a Massachusetts car accident lawyer who can present evidence that most if not all of your injuries and damages were caused by the other motorist or responsible party.

Damages in a Car Accident Claim

Your damages in a car accident claim depend on the nature and extent of your injuries as well as the liability of other parties. Your car accident lawyer will present proof of liability as well as how the accident has impacted your daily life and future activities, including earning capacity, ability to engage in your routine daily activities (driving, walking, sports, personal care), and appearance if you suffered disfigurement. Psychological trauma is another component of your damages.

If future surgeries are reasonably possible, this can substantially increase your damages and compensation.

Damages in a car accident injury claim may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Decreased earning capacity
  • Permanent disability
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Cost of vocational rehabilitation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Retain The Law Office of Burns and Jain

Most car accident injury claims are not cut and dry with liability clearly evident and damages easily proved. You will need a car accident lawyer who has a proven record of success in thousands of injury claims and in obtaining millions in compensation for their clients. The lawyers at The Law Office of Burns and Jain have the knowledge, experience and skills you want in a personal injury lawyer so you can obtain the compensation your injury claim deserves. Call their office today at 617-227-7423 for an in-depth analysis of your injury claim.