“Why does there have to be a law? Can’t we take care of ourselves?”
That was a comment posted on our website after we endorsed a proposed law last year that would have required all backseat passengers in vehicles, regardless of age, to be wearing a seatbelt.
Is it a fair question? Sure it is. This is America. We have freedoms and rights.
Apparently, some in the state Assembly agreed with the freedom sentiment, because the law didn’t pass last year.
But laws aren’t all about restricting freedom.
They’re also about saving lives.
And thousands of lives have been saved since New York became the first state in the country in 1984 to require all front-seat passengers and all backseat passengers under age 16 to wear seatbelts.
Thousands more lives could be saved if the state expanded the rear-seat seatbelt law to everyone age 16 or over.
According to federal transportation safety officials, rear seat occupants who don’t buckle up are three times more likely to be killed and eight times more likely to be seriously injured in a crash.
More than 1,500 adults die every year as a result of crashes in which they were sitting in the backseat not wearing seatbelts. In the last decade in New York, nearly 300 people have been killed and nearly 25,600 people have been injured while unrestrained in the back seats.
In crashes in which rear seat occupants are killed, about half are unbuckled. And people not wearing seat belts in the back are 30 times more likely to be ejected from the vehicle than those wearing seat belts.
But there’s more to this than just statistics.
In May of last year, two women and a 4-year-old girl in Wyoming County were ejected from the backseat of a van that was struck by a drunk driver. The women were pronounced dead at the scene. The child suffered massive head injuries and died an hour after the crash.
Maybe you or a friend or a loved one will be the next one saved because state lawmakers took a little bit of your freedom and passed a law requiring you to wear your seatbelt in the backseat.
On Wednesday, the state Assembly did what it should have done last year, passing the seatbelt bill (A6163/S4336).
It now goes on to the Senate, which passed a similar bill last year.
How much is a minor imposition on our freedom worth compared to the price of a life?
Equating safety laws exclusively to liberty is to ignore reality.
We don’t always take care of ourselves. We don’t always take care of others.
So we need laws to protect us.
And we need this new seatbelt law.