Requiring rear-seat passengers to wear seat belts will make front-seat passengers who buckle up safer and result in fewer vehicle-crash fatalities, according to a committee report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office last year.
An amendment to the state vehicle and traffic law tucked away in the governor’s 2020 executive budget proposal would mandate rear-seat passengers of all ages use safety belts.
Evidence shows rear-seat occupants using safety belts fare significantly better in traffic accidents. Front-seat passengers also fare better in accidents when the rear passengers are belted, according to a recent report submitted by a committee appointed by Cuomo to study traffic safety.
“Riding in a car with, say, a soda bottle or a pair of shoes in the back seat can be dangerous,” Coxsackie police Chief Sam Mento said Friday. “If you’re in a crash, those objects can become lethal weapons, so imagine what human bodi-es thrown around inside a car can do.”
People interviewed in the Twin Counties voiced their support for the stricter requirement.
“It sounds like a good law,” said Mark Landsman, of Woodstock, who was visiting Hudson on Thursday.
The rear seat belt requirement gives passengers a better chance of survival in a catastrophic vehicle accident, a New England woman said.
“I’m a big fan of seat belts,” said Jessica Jenkins of Blue Hill, Maine. Jenkins was visiting Hudson with her family on school break. “I’m all for it. Getting your clothes wrinkled is a low price to pay for safety.”
If front-seat belts have a proven track record of safety, rear-seat belts should do the same, another woman added.
“It makes sense to me,” said Margaret Tomlinson, of Catskill. “We know they help people stay safe in a crash. I think it’s a smart move.”
The state Vehicle and Traffic Law does not mandate the use of seat belts by passengers over the age of 16 in the rear seat of motor vehicles. Requiring rear-seat occupants to use safety belts will improve motor-vehicle safety and reduce traffic-related fatalities, the committee’s report concluded.
Mandatory wearing of rear seat belts is a long-time coming, Mento said.
“I’ve always questioned why that wasn’t included in the original seat belt law,” Mento said. “It’s a good idea. Passengers riding anywhere in a car can be hurt in a crash. It’s a prudent law and I think it will save lives.”
State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, agreed.
“Buckling up is common sense and seat belts are proven to save lives,” Jordan said Friday.
But the state budget is not the proper venue for debate on the amendment, she added.
“While we should discuss the merits of the governor’s proposed seat belt requirement for all back-seat passengers regardless of age, it shouldn’t happen within the context of the 2019-20 state budget,” Jordan said. “A budget is the legal authority to spend money; it is not the appropriate place to include policies deserving of legislators — and the public’s — time and attention.”
Policies and expenditures don’t mix, the Halfmoon lawmaker said.
“Republicans and Democrats alike should stand together against the continued inclusion of policy language in budget bills by this or any governor,” Jordan said. “There is a bipartisan need for the state Legislature to reassert its policy-making role as a coequal branch of government.”
In 2018, Cuomo’s Traffic Safety Committee found 21 percent of highway deaths happen to people not wearing seat belts. Moreover, a lack of seat belt use was found to be a greater factor in vehicle-accident deaths than alcohol or excessive speed.
Nationwide, in 2015, 4.3 percent of 22,441 fatalities — or 966 deaths — involved unrestrained people in the rear seats, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, website. An unbuckled rear-seat passenger is eight times more likely to be injured or killed in a crash than a buckled rear-seat passenger, according to the NHTSA.
Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow police to ticket a driver or front-seat passenger for not wearing a seat belt, while 18 states have the same laws for rear-seat riders, according to the governor’s office.
If Cuomo’s executive budget passes, the amendment will take effect immediately and the state will become the 19th to require rear-seat motor-vehicle passengers to wear seat belts.
Penalties include the following: A driver convicted of not wearing his or her own seat belt will not receive points on his or her license; a driver convicted of any safety belt or seat charge regarding a child under age 16 in the vehicle they are driving will receive three points; and no points for passengers violating the adult seat belt law.
“The adult passenger violating the seat belt law gets the ticket and a $50 civil penalty,” Cuomo spokesman Patrick Muncie said Friday. “If the driver is also unrestrained, then the ticket goes to the driver for not wearing the driver seat belt.”
Hudson police Chief L. Edward Moore did not have a strong opinion on the proposal.
“The mantra with me is that we’re going to do whatever the law requires,” Moore said. “We will enforce it if that law comes down the line.”