The Debate Over Civil Liberties And Seat Belts

By Abbie Ruzicka

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Feb. 8, 2012
 
BOSTON — Seat belt usage in Massachusetts is among the lowest in the nation. A 2011 observation study found 73 percent of front seat occupants used seat belts properly; in a summary the year before, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put the low-water mark for seat belt usage at 72 percent.

Download the studies 
Mass. seat belt study, 2011
National seat belt rates, 2010

Under current state laws, buckling up is a secondary enforcement: drivers can be ticketed if they're not wearing a belt but only if they've already been pulled over for another reason.
 
Public health advocates are calling for primary enforcement of seat belt laws, making it possible for Massachusetts police to pull over anyone for not wearing a seat belt. The bill is currently stalled in the Legislature.
 
However, Stephanie Soriano-Mills, an attorney for the NAACP's New England Area Conference, said the legislation could infringe on peoples' civil liberties and lead to more racial profiling. 
 
"In Massachusetts people are experiencing driving while black, driving while brown — and that is something that isn’t being addressed," she said. "To add another law without addressing that problem is just continuing to put drivers at risk of being stopped, unnecessarily searched and their civil rights violated."
 
Advocates of the legislation said primary enforcement of the seat belt law would save lives, and save taxpayers millions of dollars. The Bay State Banner summarized the controversy.

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