New York’s New Buckle-Up-In-Back-Seat Law to Take Effect November 1.

Governor Cuomo recently signed into law legislation requiring passengers in motor vehicles over the age of 16 to buckle up in back.  This is a change from the current law which requires them to wear seat belts only when in the frontseat. The new law takes effect November 1.

Note that in New York the driver of the vehicle is responsible for ensuring that his or her passengers are all wearing seat belts. Buckle up in back or your driver gets the ticket.

Why the new law?  Studies have more conclusively proven that you are much less likely to suffer serious injuries or death if you wear a seat belt, even in the backseat.  In fact, studies show that the use of a backseat seat belt could reduce death rates by 2/3.

New York has been a leader in seat-belt legislation from the get-go.  In 1984 Cuomo’s father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, signed into law the very first seat-belt requirement in the nation.  At that time only 16% of motor vehicle occupants used seat belts.

The entire history of seat-belt laws is fascinating (at least to this personal injury lawyer). The first seat-belt law was a 1968 federal law, Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Safety Standard, which required all vehicles (except buses) to be fitted with seat belts. But there was no requirement that the occupants actually use them, and few did.

As stated above, New York became the first state to require their use (but only in the front seat) in 1984.  Almost all States followed suit, except one.  Can you guess which State was and still is the holdout?  Hint: Its motto is “Live Free or Die”.  Yes, New Hampshire. You have to hand it to them; they take their motto seriously.

Another interesting thing about seat-belt laws around the country is the degree of enforcement.  Most states, including New York, have something known as “primary” enforcement, meaning a cop can pull you over just for not having your seat belt on.  But in about 15 states, they can’t pull you over just for that, but if they pull you over for some other violation – for example speeding – they can ticket you for the seat-belt violation along with the primary violation.

Here’s another reason you probably never thought of for wearing a seat belt:  Not wearing one can crush not only your body, but your personal injury claim.  How?

In New York if you are injured in a car crash, the insurance company defending the negligent driver can raise a “seat-belt defense”.  Translation:  If the defense can prove through expert testimony that you would not have been so badly injured had you been belted, then your compensation is reduced to corresponded to what your injuries likely would have been had you been belted.  This is true even if you were sitting in the backseat, and has been so for many years even though seat belts were not legally required to be worn in the backseat.

Here’s an example of how the “seat-belt defense” works:  About a decade ago we had a client who was a backseat passenger when his driver lost control of the vehicle and hit a tree.  He was not wearing his seat belt. The law at that time did not require backseat passengers to wear them. When his head hit the seat in front of him, his head snapped back and he fractured his neck.  He ended up paralyzed from the neck down. Since he was very young – in his 20’s – his economic loss was huge – a lifetime of income loss and medical care, not to mention pain and suffering.

His case would have settled for many, many millions of dollars, but because the defendant had a seat-belt expert who was prepared to testify that he would not have broken his neck had he been belted, the case settled for only about half the many millions it would have otherwise have settled for.

Why did our client decide to settle for half of what his injury was worth?  Fear.  He was afraid – and rightfully so – that a jury might believe the defendant’s expert instead of believing our expert who said a seat belt would have made no difference.  Did our client want to risk a next-to-nothing verdict in the hopes that the jury would buy into our expert’s theory and not the defense’s?  Hell no.

So not wearing that seat belt cost him several million dollars.

Let me ask you this:  Are you the “I don’t believe in personal injury lawsuits” types? If so, you are not alone.  But let me tell you a secret you might not know about yourself:  When it happens to YOU or YOUR LOVED ONE, you will become a believer in personal injury lawsuits.  You will suddenly want justice!  If your daughter, or your wife, or you are crippled because of another driver’s carelessness in colliding into you, you will want to get just compensation for your lost income, medical expenses and pain and suffering.  Believe me, almost all my clients are “converts”.  They were once against personal injury lawsuits!

So even though you don’t think you will ever sue anyone, wear your seat belt, including in the backseat.  Three good reasons:  (1) It is now the law in New York, (2) it is likely to lessen your injuries should you crash, and (3) your claim for personal injury compensation (yes, you will want to sue) will not be compromised.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

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Syracuse NY Car Accident Lawyers
Michaels Bersani Kalabanka

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