Corzine backs mandatory seat belts for passengers

March 26, 2008 4:19:51 PM PDT
Nearly a year after he was almost killed in a car accident in which he wasn't buckled up, Gov. Jon S. Corzine says he's in favor of requiring all vehicle passengers to wear seat belts in New Jersey. "I think there's no reason that we should not be moving in that direction," Corzine said.

Under state law, adult passengers in the rear seats of an automobile aren't required to wear seat belts.

A recommendation to require all vehicle passengers to buckle up is part of a plan unveiled Wednesday to improve teen driving safety. (Read recommendations)

Corzine said requiring all passengers to wear seat belts is sensible for everyone.

"Unfortunately, I can speak to the fact that seat belt usage is a very real protector of lives," Corzine said.

Corzine, who was a front-seat passenger in the state police-driven sport utility vehicle that crashed along the Garden State Parkway, voluntarily paid the $46 fine for not wearing his seat belt and filmed a public service announcement advocating seat belt usage.

Corzine broke 15 bones in the April 12 crash.

Since the crash, New Jersey seat belt usage has increased, according to state highway traffic safety officials.

A survey conducted last year found seat belt usage rate in New Jersey increased to a record 91.4 percent, up from 90 percent in 2006.

According to state officials, 202 unbelted back seat passengers died in motor vehicle crashes in New Jersey from 2003 through 2006.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found the use of seat belts by back seat passengers reduces the chance of death and serious injury in a motor vehicle accident by up to 75 percent. (Click here to read the report.)

"Everybody in the vehicle needs to be properly restrained," said Pam Fischer, the state highway traffic safety division director.

Fischer said New Jersey would become the eighth state to require all passengers wear seat belts.

"I think it's sensible and it will need to be implemented and I'll be supportive of it," Corzine said.

The Assembly recently passed legislation to require all passengers to wear seat belts, but it hasn't received Senate consideration.

"Seat belts save lives, and it's past time we required everyone in a car to wear them," said Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May.

Corzine's crash occurred when the SUV slammed into a guardrail after driving 91 mph and being clipped by a pickup truck.

A state police investigation determined unauthorized use of emergency lights by Corzine's driver triggered the crash.

"I'm blessed to be here, so each day I am grateful for that day," Corzine said.

Corzine vowed to advocate for seat belt usage after the crash; he filmed the public service ad and called for seat belt usage.

"Circumstances have allowed for me to speak authoritatively about the advantages of using seat belts and the necessity and I don't feel that I should back away from that or lose that opportunity," he said.

Safety advocates hope he continue his efforts.

But Lisa Lewis, the executive director of The Partnership for Safe Driving in Washington, D.C., said Corzine hasn't done enough to advocate against high-speed driving.

"If you're driving recklessly or allowing yourself to ride with someone who is, you're taking your chances, with or without a seat belt," Lewis said.

And Fischer was pleased to notice something when Corzine arrived at the motor vehicle agency.

"As he came in, he showed me he had his seat belt on, which I appreciate immensely," she said.