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Buckling up?

Posted at 3:10 PM on April 9, 2008 by Michael Marchio (4 Comments)

A provision in SF3223 says you might have to. The transportation policy bill would make driving without a seat belt fastened a primary offense - meaning that if a police officer sees you riding while unbuckled, he or she could pull you over for that and that alone.

Sen. David Tomassoni offered an amendment to strip the provision . "We already require seat belts to be worn and there are enough things people can already get pulled over for," Tomassoni said, according to our friends at the Senate Briefly. Sen. Tomassoni is no fan of this provision, and he did the same thing on the Senate floor last year, but it was shot down then too.

I can see where Sen. Tomassoni's coming from on this one, because I think many people get a foul taste in their mouths when the government tries to outlaw doing something stupid, like leaving an ice fishing shack out on the lake too close to spring. But everybody shares the costs when tax dollars are used to remove the shack, and maybe its occupant, from the water. The figures give the opposite side of this argument a lot of ammunition.

The state's Department of Public Safety supports the bill, and put out this fact sheet about it.

Some of the more surprising findings:

-More than half of the 373 vehicle occupants killed in 2006 -- 197 -- were not wearing seat belts.

-Traffic deaths are the leading cause of death for people younger than 34.

-The " economic impact to community costs" are estimated at more than $1 million per fatality, and $60,000 per injury.

-A primary seat belt law is expected to increase people wearing seat belts by 5 to 10 percentage points, saving 18 to 34 lives per year.

Here's a story on the costs of car crashes. A study by AAA found $164 billion is lost every year because of crashes, including the congestion, health costs and costs of lost time and death or injury.

Sen. Linda Higgins pointed out in the hearing that p rom season is coming up , and "teens regularly die or are severely injured after not wearing their seat belts because they did not want to wrinkle their dresses or tuxedos."

A column by Michael Kinsley recently made this point.

When you drive without a seat belt, you are not motivated by a desire to die, or even a desire to take a small risk of dying. Why should your motive matter? Because your death -- especially your death in a car crash -- does impose externalities on me. I would pay good money not to see your bloody carcass lying beside the highway, or endure the traffic jam or pay the emergency room costs. A serious right, like the right to choose the time and manner of one's death, may be worth the cost, while a right to be careless or irresponsible is not.

Is this nanny statism, or a legitimate direction for public policy when the costs are considered? Its a tough question, but one we'll hear answered by the Legislature.


Comments (4)


One of the more impressive "Wear Your Seatbelt" videos is on (of course) YouTube. The only version I found is originally from Ireland, with Hebrew subtitles. A bit too long for a 'standard' TV ad (unfortunately). 4 young people get in the car, with 2 obviously a couple. He doesn't put on his seat belt. Drive, drive, drive, happy happy happy. Car crash crash crash. The end is a cop watching as they're loading bodies onto an ambulance. The only one alive is the idiot with no seatbelt - the other 3 died from him getting thrown around the car. It's pretty graphic. Very impressive. Hell, just having a pretty graphic car crash should be impressive to kids who think a car accidents aren't such a big deal.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrZ3Iw5723c&feature=PlayList&p=4C358EB155DD0515&index=2

The only time I've ever been in a car with no seatbelt (after our car actually had one) ... we had an accident. I woke up (I wasn't driving) in mid-air, with the flash of 'huh?' just before I was thrown forward into the truck's dashboard just before we slammed into the median of I-75. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. While the extent of injury was a sprained finger and a large amount of stuff lost out of the truck bed, I felt like suuuuuuch an idiot. Duh, it's not like I didn't *know* it's stupid. Never done it since. Something I should never have been able to say to begin with.

Posted by Elizabeth T | April 9, 2008 6:01 PM


Minnesota could save many lives by upgrading its seat belt law. Unfortunately, children over the age of 11 sitting in the back seat of a car, or filling up a van, are NOT required by Minnesota law to wear a seat belt. And, the current law that we do have cannot be enforced, so what is the point? It is the only traffic safety law that officers cannot stop and issue a citation even though it could save your life.

I urge the legislature to pass this legislation. It's what they do best, pass laws in the interest of public safety, so we don't have to spend our tax dollars caring for the 94,000 Minnesotans with tramatic brain injuries.

Watch Trish van Pilsum, Ch. 9, investigate report, "Room to Live" and maybe you'll get it.


Posted by Katherine A. Cooper | April 10, 2008 12:33 PM


Wow, you're pretty lucky that a sprained finger is all you got from that.

That PSA you found is pretty incredible too. I actually saw that one a few years ago at the Walker Arts Center. Every year they show a collection of the best European commercials and PSAs, and all of them were intended to be funny, except for one, that one you linked to above. It was kind of a killjoy. It certainly encourages you to buckle up though.

I think it is kind of interesting that they've moved away from the "scare people into safety" approach that I hear they used to have in drivers education. When I took it, they stressed safety, but there weren't any videos, or 8mm films run on projectors, that showed all the death and destruction from car accidents and drunk driving like I hear they used to do. Although that may have just been my high school. Does anyone know if they still show those movies?

Posted by Michael Marchio | April 10, 2008 12:34 PM


I am an attorney who has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. The current interpretation of the Constitution by the courts on vehicle stops by police is this: the police need "an articulable suspicion of crininal activity" in order to legally pull a vehicle over. In other words, "a suspicion that they can put into words." If they have this, they can lawfully pull a vehicle over. Even if the suspicion turns out to be "mistaken," the courts will hold that this was a legal stop. If the seatbelt law becomes a primary offense, this will give police a legal excuse to stop any vehicle, any time, for any(or for no) reason. To justify the stop, all the officer needs to say is: "I thought the driver did not have have is seatbelt on" Most officers I"ve had contact with are professionals, whose honesty and motivations are above reproach. However, like any profession, there are a few bad apples in law enforcement. Making failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense will give the bad apples in law enforcemet a license to harass people they don't like, by pulling over whomever they please, whenever they please. Remember, all the officer needs to say to justify the stop is: "I thought the driver didn't have his seatbelt on" I'm sure most of the supporters of this law change have not thought much about this unintended consequence. It is my opinion that if polce can stop vehicles if they "believe" that the driver is not seatbelted, we will experience a huge uptick in harrassment-type vehicle stops in Minnesota

Posted by Michael SAmuelson | May 9, 2008 7:34 PM