ALBANY — It may soon be illegal for passengers to ride in the back of a vehicle without a seat belt in New York state.
Legislation proposed by state Sen. David Carlucci, D-38, would amend existing traffic law to require seat belts to be used by all passengers, including adults in the back seat. A similar bill has been making its way through the Assembly.
The bill could be voted on this week.
“It’s safer, but I don’t think we need a new law for everything,” said Rachel Trent of Hudson. “I do make sure my kids are belted in in the back seat.”
At the present time, the law mandates seat belt use by adults and children in the front seat, but only children under age 16 are required to buckle up in the rear seat. If passed by the Senate and Assembly and then approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the law would require all passengers to wear a seat belt, regardless of where they are sitting in the vehicle.
“It’s a common-sense piece of legislation,” Carlucci said at a press conference at the state capital in Albany this week. “I was talking with someone earlier who said they had no idea this wasn’t the law, and I think that’s part of it. It’s about educating people about the dangers of riding in the back seat and that you are not immune to injury if you are riding in the back seat.”
Carlucci said there are about 37,000 fatalities from vehicle accidents each year, and wearing a seat belt, anywhere in the vehicle, reduces the chances of being killed. People not wearing seat belts are eight times more likely to be injured or killed, he added.
“By requiring it by law, we are sending a message saying not only is this the right thing to do, it’s a legal obligation to do this as well,” Carlucci said.
Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley said he supports the legislation because it is a matter of saving lives.
“I really don’t want to burden anyone with more laws, but if it’s a safety issue like this, then I’m all for it,” Seeley said.
Seat belt use might have made a difference in the limousine crash in Schoharie on Oct. 6, 2018, that left 20 people dead, Seeley said.
“If they had seat belts on, maybe they wouldn’t have died,” he said.
Grant Shelby of Catskill said he makes sure everyone in the back seat is belted in anyway.
“If you get into my car, you are going to wear a seat belt,” Shelby said.
Patricia Clancy of the Medical Society of the State of New York attended the press conference and said her organization strongly supports the legislation.
“The data shows that unbuckled rear-seat passengers have more deaths or more injuries by being unrestrained,” Clancy said. “From our perspective, we would like all New Yorkers to buckle up. It does save lives.”
The AAA is also urging passage of the law and appeared at the press conference this week.
Each year about 33,000 people are killed in motor vehicle crashes, and seat belts are “the single most effective means of reducing the risk of death in a crash and have saved nearly 300,000 lives since 1975 in the U.S. alone,” according to the organization’s website.
State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, supports the legislation.
“Buckling up is common sense and seat belts have been proven to save lives,” Jordan said. “A report from AAA found that, over the course of 20 years, 886 rear-seat passengers who were unbuckled died in traffic accidents in New York state. This legislation will help prevent such tragedies and should become law.”
Coxsackie Police Chief Sam Mento said seat belts are an important safety precaution and that is something emergency responders see first-hand. By requiring rear-seat passengers to wear seat belts, it also helps protect everyone in the car, he said.
“You can’t argue with science and statistics,” Mento said. “It’s a well-known fact that anything in the back seat becomes a projectile. Depending on your weight and the velocity of the car, in an accident you can become a dangerous projectile. This is good legislation and in the end it will provide a margin of safety for everyone.”
Mento said he recently had a close call on the road, and even though he wasn’t driving fast and there was no passenger in the back seat, he saw the importance of seat-belt usage.
“Just the other day I avoided hitting a deer and everything in the back seat ended up in the front seat,” Mento said. “If I had people in the back seat, it would have been really scary.”