N.J. should implement this new N.Y. seat belt law. It’ll save lives, safety advocates say.

N.J. should implement this new N.Y. seat belt law. It’ll save lives, safety advocates say.

New Jersey needs to follow in New York state’s footsteps by passing a law that requires everyone in a vehicle to wear a seat belt and allows police to stop the vehicle if they don’t, said a report card issued by a safety group Monday.

New Jersey got an “optimal rating” as one of 30 states that have some, but not all laws recommended by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a non-profit coalition that includes consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement, and safety groups and insurance companies.

The report card has been issued annually to guide legislators and policy makers about laws the group contends would improve traffic safety.

What kept New Jersey from getting a straight “A”? Three missing laws the group contends are necessary to reduce traffic deaths. Last year’s report said New Jersey lacked the same three laws.

Right now, police in the Garden State can only issue a ticket for an unbuckled back seat passenger if they stop the vehicle for another offense.

In New York, police can stop a vehicle if they spot a passenger in the back without a belt on, under a law went into effect on Jan. 1 that made it a primary offense.

“Seat belts have saved hundreds of million of lives, but all states don’t have primary, all occupant laws,” said Dr. Stephen W. Hargarten, Medical College of Wisconsin Director of the Comprehensive Injury Center. “Motor vehicle fatality rate spikedin first six months of 2020.”

New York’s seat belt bill for all passengers was proposed because back seat passengers think they are safe riding without a belt, said David Carlucci, former New York State Senator who introduced the bill.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of people sitting in the backseat with the increase of (Uber and Lyft) ride sharing by people,” Carlucci said. “You can either kill or injure other people who are the driver or (front seat) passenger (in a crash).”

New Jersey also needs to make two changes to its 20-year-old Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program to license teen drivers in order to be a safer state, according to report card. The first is a complete ban on nighttime driving for teen drivers. State law bars driving between 11:01 p.m. and 5 a.m for anyone with a permit or probationary license under 21, but includes work-related and other exceptions.

The other is requiring 50 hours of supervised driving for a teen driver to get a permanent license. Now, New Jersey is one of three states that have no minimum supervised driving requirement during the “learner” phase of graduated driving.

Two bills were proposed last year to adopt the 50-hour standard and both are still in committee.

Neighboring Delaware also lacks one of the recommended GDL laws, Pennsylvania lacks three and New York one.

“Car crashes are the top killer of teens. All 50% states have Graduated Driver’s License laws for a three-phase process to minimize high risk situations,” said Ivette Chaidez, Impact Teen Drivers Education Outreach Coordinator in California. Her 17-year-old sister was passenger who was killed in a crash in a car driven by a teen driver.

“The report is a vital resource for legislators to implement (and) strengthen laws and ultimately save lives,” she said. “I urge all states to make improve to GDL laws in 2021.”

The state scored well in other safety areas for having two recommended laws to curb distracted driving, which the most recent State Police fatality analysissaid was the leading cause of fatal crashesfor nine years in a row.

It also got a high ranking for having three recommended drunk driving laws.

One requires all convicted offenders to have an ignition interlock, requiring them to take a breath test before their vehicle will start. The other bans open containers of alcohol for all passengers and from being anywhere in the vehicle, even in the glove box or trunk. It exempts passengers of buses, taxi cabs, limousines or persons in the living area of a motor homes.

The third law the state has requires a child endangerment charge if a person is charged with drunk driving has a child in the vehicle at the time.

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Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com.

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