New Law: $15 Fine for Not Buckling Up

Massachusetts Expects to Save 150 Lives Every Year

Next time you get into a car, buckle upper you could face a $15 fine.

As its New Year's resolution, Massachusetts this month became the nation's 14th state to institute a law requiring all occupants of a motor vehicle to wear a seat belt.

The law, heavily pushed by the administration of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, pertains to front-and back-seat occupants of cars, vans, trucks and taxis. The fine for failing to buckle up is $15, and $25 for children under five.

Three other states--California, New Mexico and Connecticut--also enacted seat belt laws January 1. Law enforcement officials have said the new laws could cut traffic deaths by 1000 per year in California alone.

The Massachusetts law is expected to save 150 lives and 5000 injuries each year, state officials have reported. The state has spent $40,000 in federal aid to publicize the new law, whose slogan is "Take the law to heart--buckle up, Massachusetts."

A fine can only be issued if the police have stopped a vehicle for violation of another Massachusetts law. It any of the unrestrained occupants is under 16 years old, the driver is held responsible and must pay any resulting fine.

Vehicles manufactured without seat belts are unaffected by the law, and a certified medical reasons could exempt certain people from the law. School buses are also unaffected by the new law.

"It's stupid, unconstitutional and has very little safety in it--you don't see me wearing one," said John R. Bielakowski, a local taxicab driver. He added that most of his passengers never wear a seat belt because the ride is often too short to warrant its use.

Most fatal accidents occur within 25 miles of the home, and a passenger is 25 more times likely to be killed if he is thrown from a car, according to the Governor's Safety Bureau.

"I wear a seat belt because it increases your chance of survival and I don't want to get a ticket," said Deborah R. Reiner '89, of Weld Hall.

"Certain laws are necessary to protect lives, even if they result in the loss of some rights," said Massachusetts native Randy A. Paynter 89, of Massachusetts Hall.

There will be a non-binding referendum in November to evaluate reaction to the law.

Some, like WRKO Talk Radio Producer Alan S. Tolz, said they would like to see the referendum vote binding. "The law is the law, and it will be that was until November," said Tolz, a member of the citizen's group Voxpop (Voice of the People) which opposes the new law.

"It is a question of the people having the ability to choose, or the commonwealth having the power to mandate," Tolz said.