NY bills would require backseat passengers to wear seat belts
Two Hudson Valley state senators are the driving forces behind a bill requiring the wearing of seat belts by backseat passengers over age 16 in motor vehicles, aiming to break an 18-year streak without success for similar proposals.
The Assembly on Feb. 12 passed A6163, an identical version of the bill, S4336, spearheaded by Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, with co-sponsorship by state Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale.
Both senators said they’re optimistic the bill will make it out of the Senate for a full vote this session.
Metzger said she had planned to propose such a bill in the Senate, before learning that Carlucci has been leading the legislative effort in recent years. Democratic Sen. Jos Serrano of New York City also co-sponsored the bill.
In 1984, New York became the first state to mandate seat belts for adult drivers and front-seat passengers, with the law taking effect in 1985.
Not using front seat belts in New York is considered a “primary offense,” meaning police can stop and cite drivers solely for that, as opposed to secondary offenses, which require additional cause. Those younger than 16 must wear a seat belt anywhere in a car in New York.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have some form of backseat passenger seat belt law for adults, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a trade group.
New York lawmakers recently mandated that all taxi and livery passengers over age 8 must wear a seat belt, but those hitching rides via ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are excluded.
Carlucci’s bill would make failure to use a backseat seat belt a primary offense, with the driver and the adult passenger each subject to fines of up to $50 — the current law for adult use of front-seat seat belts.
Various studies indicate significantly lower risks for injuries and deaths among front- and backseat drivers and passengers when all buckle up.
“If you are not wearing a backseat seat belt, your body becomes a projectile, and you can injure the people in front,” said Carlucci, adding that the risk is even greater given the rise of Uber and Lyft.
Opponents of rear-seat adult seat belts argue for personal freedom, calling New York one of America’s most over-regulated, over-policed states.
Lawmakers in areas with agriculture also have opposed the bill because they think clear exemptions are needed for vehicles operated on farms.
Carlucci’s bill carries a medical exception and exemptions for pre-1968 vehicles; vehicles not required by the federal government to have seat belts; emergency vehicles (except for fire company vehicles and ambulances when they’re not providing medical care); rural letter carriers; and buses (other than school buses), which are subject to local regulations.
“Requiring rear seat belts in cars is not a question of personal liberty, it’s a question of public safety, plain and simple,” Metzger said. “Think about the arbitrariness of requiring seat belts (in the backseat) if you’re under 16. If people are over 17, do their lives not matter?”