20 years ago, the MA legislature assured everybody, when they passed the first mandatory seat belt law here, "Oh we'll never use this as a reason to pull somebody over." Before, one would get a ticket for non-compliance only if pulled over and ticketed for something else. But now.....and of course, they're "doin' it for the chil'ren".................
And they wonder why MA is losing population.
House approves seat belt scrutiny
Bill would let police pull over non-users
By Scott Helman, Globe Staff | January 20, 2006
The Massachusetts House narrowly approved a controversial bill yesterday to give police officers authority to pull over drivers for not wearing seat belts, a move that supporters say would prevent needless deaths and injuries on state roads every year.
The bill, which had stalled twice in the House on tie votes in the last five years, passed 77 to 74 over objections that it would lead to racial profiling and unwarranted government intrusion into people's decisions about their own safety.
It stands a good chance of becoming law; the Senate has backed similar bills twice in recent years, and Governor Mitt Romney signaled support for the measure yesterday.
Under current law, drivers and passengers are required to wear seat belts, but police cannot pull them over solely for failing to wear a seat belt. Officers must have another reason to pull over a car, such as speeding, and then may issue a $25 citation to the driver and passengers who are not wearing seat belts.
Seat belt requirements in Massachusetts have become a flashpoint in a 20-year debate about personal liberty and one's responsibility to society. The House's endorsement yesterday of the measure, called a ''primary seat belt" bill, is the latest chapter.
Lawmakers were lobbied to pass the bill by an umbrella group called the Seatbelts Are For Everyone Coalition, which includes several dozen health and public safety organizations and advocates. The coalition also includes insurers who would benefit from facing fewer expensive claims if injuries and deaths from car accidents were reduced.
Opponents of the law believe that drivers should be able to decide whether to wear a seat belt or not and that they have a right to drive unsafely if they wish.
''Where does the government stop being Big Brother?" Representative Paul K. Frost, Republican of Auburn, asked during the debate. ''When do we stop having the sense that government knows best and hold individuals to be responsible for their own actions?"
But House members backing the bill argued that taxpayers shell out millions of dollars every year in Medicaid costs to provide medical care and rehabilitation for drivers and passengers severely injured in accidents because they weren't wearing seatbelts.
Representative John W. Scibak, Democrat of South Hadley, cited statistics prepared by supporters estimating that the yearly cost to the state could reach more than $200 million.
''Because somebody is not abiding by the law of Massachusetts, we have to pay for it," said Representative Cheryl A. Rivera, a Springfield Democrat and co-chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Several House members who opposed a tougher seat belt law in the past said they had been swayed by arguments that it would save lives and reduce injuries. ''It has taken me a long time to come to the conclusion that a primary seat belt law is perhaps the only way to put some teeth into this law that we already have on the books," said Representative Christine E. Canavan, a Brockton Democrat.
Opponents countered that the new law opens the door for the state to regulate any kind of unhealthy behavior. Following this logic, said Representative Lewis G. Evangelidis, why not outlaw fast food, smoking, and alcohol?
''I think we'd all agree that not wearing a seat belt is crazy," said Evangelidis, a Holden Republican. But, he said, ''if we start telling people what to do with their personal safety inside a motor vehicle, what's the next step? . . . Where do we draw the line here, folks?"
Seat belt laws have generated controversy in Massachusetts for more than 20 years. The state's first mandatory seat belt law took effect Jan. 1, 1986, but was later repealed by voters. The Legislature again mandated seat belt use in 1994, and that's the law that stands today. (The law was endorsed by voters in 1994.)
According to a recent survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 65 percent of Massachusetts drivers buckle up, which puts the state near the bottom of the country in terms of seat belt compliance. Only Mississippi, at 61 percent, is lower. (The national average is 82 percent.)
But Massachusetts also boasts the lowest rate of driving-related fatalities of any state in the country. In 2004, the state had 7.42 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to federal figures.
One reason for the low fatality rate: New England has a high number of roads where the speed limit is less than 55 miles per hour.
If the bill becomes law, Massachusetts would become the 24th state to have a primary seat belt law, according to the Traffic Safety Administration, which estimates that Massachusetts would see compliance rise by 11 percent, and save 23 lives every year.
The state would also immediately qualify for nearly $14 million in federal transportation grants and potentially millions more in the future if the bill becomes law, said Traffic Safety Administration spokesman Rae Tyson.
The Senate passed a primary seat belt measure on voice votes in 2000 and 2001, but it wasn't clear last night whether Senate President Robert E. Travaglini would support what the House passed yesterday. A spokeswoman said Travaglini was unavailable for comment.
Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom issued an e-mail statement yesterday indicating the governor's support for the legislation.
''Governor Romney supports a primary seat belt law because it means more federal funds for our state and more lives saved," Fehrnstrom said.
The opportunity for more federal money wasn't worth it to many, including most African-American members. One -- Byron Rushing, the second assistant majority leader -- said he couldn't support the bill without an assurance that it wouldn't worsen the problem of police disproportionately pulling over minority group members.
''We haven't solved the problem of racial profiling," Rushing, a Boston Democrat, said after the vote. ''We need to be talking about how to solve this problem before we give policemen a whole range of other abilities to stop people."
Rushing, who had indicated this week that he was undecided about the bill, supported the one amendment that passed with the legislation yesterday. It would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to annually report statistics on citations issued for seat belt violations to the attorney general and to the House and Senate clerks.
The bill also stipulates that anyone pulled over for not wearing a seat belt within 180 days of the law's enactment will only be issued a warning.
Scott Helman can be reached at email@example.com.
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. - -- BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, November 11, 1755.—The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, vol. 6, p. 242 (1963)
If the Constitution grants a Right to Privacy which allows a woman to abort an unborn child, why don't I have a right to not wear a seatbelt?
And there you have it. While the feds can't directly write your state laws, they certainly can bribe it with cash to pass laws they desire. Untill that is changed, this will continue. Most states now can't survive without the federal subsidies they receive for compliance.
If they promise you not to abuse something in the future in exchange for more power, you should count on it being abused as though it were directed to be so on stone tablets from the finger of god.
And with Romney supporting this, one wonders just how he thinks he can get the GOP nomination as president, let alone win a general presidential election.