OMBUDSMAN-ALERT: Assemblyman Zebrowski Co-Sponsors Bills to Broaden Primary Seat Belt Laws to Include All Passengers in Both Front and Rear Seats

BY Dr. Louis Alpert

As stated in last week’s Ombudsman-Alert article, “Keeping a hawk eye on auto safety”, New York State recently had their Highway Safety Laws downgraded  by the “Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety” from Green (best) to Yellow (caution) for lack of a primary seat belt Law in place that covered all rear as well as front seat passengers in the vehicle.

In this regard, New York State shares this rather “mediocre” distinction with exactly 15 other states who were also given this Yellow rating for their Highway Safety Laws. In order to try to help remedy this problem Ombudsman Alert called upon our local legislators, Carlucci, Jaffee and Zebrowski, to strongly support our recommendations to strengthen these seat belt laws in both the Assembly and the Senate. Assemblyman Zebrowski immediately supported our request by co-sponsoring A1582 and A7033, while Assemblywoman Jaffee was a previous co-sponsor of A1582 and Senator Carlucci was a previous co-sponsor of S2928, a similar bill in the senate.

The Ombudsman, who has been a college professor for more than 40 years, will now discuss a brief history of the introduction and use of auto seat belts in this country:

Ralph Nader shook the automotive world on November 30, 1965 with the publication of his best-selling and now classic book, “Unsafe at any Speed.”

In this book, Nader urged all auto manufacturers, among other things, to install seat belts in all cars to help prevent the deaths and injuries resulting from passengers being thrown out of their vehicles.

It wasn’t until over two years later, on January 1, 1968 that the first seat belt law, a federal law, title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, was enacted. This law required all vehicles (except buses) to be fitted with seat belts in all designated positions. That being so, making it mandatory to wear seat belts has still been a slow process, as the enforcement to actually use them was left to each individual state.

In current times, seat belt laws are now divided into two categories: Primary and Secondary. Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officers to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offences taking place. Secondary seat belt laws state that law enforcement officers may issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another traffic violation.

The current statistics stated by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are as follows:

34 states and the D.C. have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants; with only 18 states and the D.C. also applying this law to all rear seat occupants as well.

Based upon the above, exactly 16 states, including New York, have primary seat belt laws that apply only to front seat passengers (Children under 16 may be covered by other laws when they are in the rear seats).

15 of the 50 states merely have secondary seat belt laws, and one state, New Hampshire, has no seat belt law at all.

In summary, the Ombudsman is most pleased that Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski has listened to our plea to add his influential voice to this safety matter by co-sponsoring Assembly bills A1582 and A7033 which we believe will help to ensure their final passage in the New York State Assembly.

This Ombudsman also encourages Senator Carlucci to help guide Senate bill S2928, which is similar to A1582, to passage in the Senate so that with Governor Cuomo’s expected approval of this urgent safety matter, New York will return to its green highway safety rating, and more importantly help save the lives of  New York’s drivers.

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