Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently signed legislation (S. 4336/A. 6163), which requires all motor vehicle passengers over the age of 16 to wear seat belts whenever they travel in motor vehicles. Currently in New York state, passengers who are 16 years of age or older are only required to wear seat belts when traveling in the front passenger seat beside the driver.
Earlier New York Law
In 1984, Governor Mario Cuomo signed into law legislation that made New York the first state with mandatory seat belt requirements. The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles reported the same year that approximately 16% of individuals in the state wore seat belts. 24 years later in 2008, the Department reported that this compliance rate had increased to 89% of individuals. The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee additionally reports that 30% of New York state’s highway fatalities involve 30% of people who are not wearing seat belts. Experts in the safety field believe that using the seat belts in the back of vehicles could avoid over two-thirds of fatalities as well as serious injuries caused by car crashes.
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The Contents of the New Seat Belt Law
The new seat belt regulation was signed into law on August 11, 2020. The law amends chapter 365 of the 1984 seat belt law to reflect that no individual is permitted to operate a motor vehicle unless the individual is restrained by a commissioner-approved seat belt. The law also states that no individual 16 years of age or over is permitted to be a passenger in the front of a motor vehicle unless such individual is wearing a commissioner-approved seat belt. The purpose of this recent regulation, which is scheduled to take effect on November 1, 2020, is to further reduce the number of motor vehicle accident fatalities.
Response to the Regulation
Governor Cuomo stated that New York state has known for decades that seat belts can save lives and that this new regulation helps to both strengthen existing seat belt laws as well as avoid unnecessary fatalities. Governor Cuomo also noted the 1984 regulation passed by his father and the opportunity to build on this “legacy” and create a safe state.
Meanwhile, Senator David Carlucci commented that the injuries that a person can incur from not wearing a seat belt can prove fatal regardless of whether a person sits in the back or front of a vehicle. Assembly Member Walter Mosley also commented that seatbelts are an effective way to make New York’s roads safe and to reduce the number of deaths associated with car crashes.
Other Seat Belt Safety Advice
It is not enough to just wear a seat belt whenever you get inside of a motor vehicle, there are also some safety strategies that you should follow to make sure you remain safe, which include:
- Airbags should be used in combination with seat belts. Some people make the mistake of believing that airbags and seat belts are an either/or choice. In reality, these two safety devices work together. If you fail to wear a seat belt, you could be thrown into a rapidly filling airbag, which could lead to serious injuries or fatalities. Remember to buckle up even though your vehicle likely has airbags.
- Wear seat belts appropriately. Remember, it is not enough to just wear a seat belt, you also must make sure to wear your seat belt appropriately. Both the lap belt and shoulder belt should be secured across the rib cage and pelvis, which are the areas of a person’s body best designed to withstand the substantial forces associated with car crashes. Additionally, you should place the shoulder belt across your chest and not close to your neck. The lap belt should sit across your hips rather than your stomach.
- Fit matters. Seat belts should comfortably fit the person who wears them. This means that before purchasing a new vehicle, you should make sure that the car’s seat belts adequately fit you. If you need seat belt adjusters, you should not hesitate to either ask your vehicle dealer or purchase them on your own. If you drive an older vehicle, it might be helpful to contact the vehicle’s manufacturer to learn how to retrofit the vehicle with current and safer seat belts.
- Take extra precautions if you are pregnant. If you are pregnant, you should take extra precautions to make sure that you position your seat belt in a way that maximizes both your safety and provides maximum protection for your child. If you are pregnant, medical professionals recommend still wearing a seat belt regardless of your stage of pregnancy. This means never placing the shoulder belt under your arm or behind or your back. You should also never place the lap belt either over the top of your belly. Medical professionals also recommend that if you are pregnant, you should leave your vehicle’s airbags turned on even if the vehicle is equipped with an On-Off airbag switch. If you are in an accident, you should not hesitate to seek medical attention to make sure that you or your child are not injured in the collision.
- Separate myth from facts. Some people falsely believe that seat belts can trap motorists in accidents involving fire or water. In reality, these accidents represent only half to 1% of all motor vehicle accidents, and you cannot escape such dangers if you are unconscious. Wearing a seat belt greatly increases your chances of remaining conscious after an accident. Another common myth is that you need not wear a seat belt if you are going slowly or only going a short distance. In reality, many deadly accidents occur within 25 miles from home and at speeds of less than 40 miles per hour.
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