NY Governor Cuomo Signs Long-Awaited Seatbelt Law

A new law signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo requires all motor vehicle passengers older than 16 to wear a seat belt. It replaces previous legislation that only mandated seatbelts for people aged 16 and up when they were in the vehicle’s front passenger seat.

In a statement released about the legislation, Governor Cuomo said: “We’ve known for decades that seat belts save lives and with this measure we are further strengthening our laws and helping to prevent needless tragedies… It was under my father’s leadership that New York became the first state in the country to pass a seat belt law, and the nation followed his lead. Now we are building upon this legacy and helping to create a safer and stronger Empire State for all.”

A press release by the Cuomo Administration states that New York was “the first state to pass a mandatory seat belt law” in 1984, under the administration of Cuomo’s father, Governor Mario Cuomo. In that same year, according to the press release, roughly 16% of people in the state wore seatbelts, a number that rose to 98% by 2008. The state’s Traffic Safety Committee estimated that 30% of highway fatalities in the state were not wearing seatbelts. According to the release, experts think that increased use of backseat backseat seatbelts may mitigate more than 66% of vehicular fatalities and other injuries.

In a statement, New York Senator David Carlucci said: “The injuries you can sustain from not wearing a seat belt can be deadly, and that’s a fact whether you sit in the front or the back of a vehicle. With this bill signed into law, we will help prevent tragedies and save lives in New York.” Assemblyman Walter Mosley said in a separate statement: “Seatbelts are a proven way to make our roads safer and lower the number of automobile fatalities. This legislation will go a long way towards achieving that goal and ensuring that all passengers are safe when traveling.”

These comments echo the findings of a 2016 AAA report, “The Case for a Rear Seat belt Law.” As of the report’s publication, 28 other states required backseat passengers to wear seatbelts, unlike New  York. The report found that “in the past 20 years, 886 unbelted rear seat occupants age 16 and over were killed in crashes on New York roadways.” It suggested that “young adults” were the most vulnerable, as backseat passengers between 16 and 24 years of age “had by far the lowest rate of belt usage and accounted for more than half of the fatalities.” While a new seatbelt law would make children safer, the report argued, it would also improve safety for adults riding in the backseat. It goes on to state that the 1984 seatbelt legislation inspired similar laws in other states, quadrupled the usage of front seatbelts in the state within three years, and tripled front seatbelt usage nationwide in the same period.

The report found “unequivocally” that seatbelt usage reduced the risk of death and injury for all passengers wearing them. It specifically found that, “compared with belted rear seat passengers,” passengers who don’t wear seatbelts in the backseat of a vehicle are “3 times more likely to be killed,” “8 times more likely to be seriously injured,” and “2 times more likely to kill a front seat passenger by becoming a projectile.” For these and other reasons, the report called for a new rear seatbelt law in New York.

Governor Cuomo signed the legislation on August 11, 2020. It will take effect on November 1, 2020.

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