Bay State Passes Seat-belt Law

MASSACHUSETTS now joins 45 states that require drivers to buckle up.

The Bay State's new seat- belt law, which went into effect Feb. 1, mandates a $25 fine for drivers and passengers 16 years of age or older that haven't fastened safety belts. Now, four states remain that do not have safety-belt laws: New Hampshire, Maine, South Dakota, and Kentucky.

Only within the past 10 years have states enacted mandatory seat-belt laws. In 1984, New York was the first state in the country to do so.

New England states have been slow to pass mandatory seat-belt laws. Vermont's new law went into effect only last month. Meanwhile, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts have traditionally resisted the laws due to concerns over privacy rights.

The Bay State originally passed a belt law in 1985, that voters repealed the next year in a referendum. It wasn't until this year that backers won enough support for the bill's passage and an override of Gov. William Weld's (R) veto.

Safety advocates say the new law will reduce traffic fatalities and auto insurance costs and will free up federal highway construction funds. According to Rep. Paul Caron, co-chair of the Massachusetts legislature's Public Safety Committee, bodily insurance costs have gone up 176 percent since the first law was repealed in 1986.

But the new law provides for a 5 percent reduction in bodily insurance premiums if 50 percent of Bay State drivers buckle up within a year. Seat-belt use in the state has been only 32 percent; the national rate is 66 percent.

``Experiences across the country show that the implementation of the mandatory seat-belt law automatically doubles compliance in that state,'' says Mr. Caron.

Seat-belt opponents, however, are waging a campaign to repeal the law again. Chip Ford, chairman of No Means No!, believes his group can gather the 35,143 signatures needed to put the question on a November ballot.

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