additional commentary by Timothy Horrigan; August 5, 2009
In the spring of 2009, the New Hampshire House tried to get a seatbelt law passed. Nww Hampshire is the last state in the union not to require seatbelts for adult drivers, and it costs us about $5 million a year in lost federal aid to be that last state. My libertarian friends were highly displeased with the bill, but it got through the Transportation committee, passed the House the first time, went to the Ways & Means committee (who reduced the fine) and then it passed the House again.
It was a fairly simple bill. It was a "primary" seatbelt bill, which means the cops could pull you over just for being unbelted.
HB 383 – AS AMENDED BY THE HOUSE
HOUSE BILL 383
SPONSORS: Rep. S. Kelly, Merr 7; Rep. Bergin, Hills 6; Rep. Harding, Graf 11; Rep. Ingersoll, Coos 4; Rep. Jennifer Brown, Straf 5; Sen. Fuller Clark, Dist 24; Sen. Janeway, Dist 7; Sen. Kelly, Dist 10
This bill requires passenger restraint use by all motor vehicle operators and passengers unless specifically exempt by law.
Explanation: Matter added to current law appears in bold italics.
removed from current law appears [
Matter which is either (a) all new or (b) repealed and reenacted appears in regular type.
STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Nine
AN ACT relative to passenger restraints.
Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:
1 Youth Operators; Passenger Restraint Violations. Amend RSA 263:14, IV to read as follows:
A driver who is under 18 years of age shall not be subject to
license suspension for a first violation of RSA 265:107-a, [
2 Passenger Restraints Required. RSA 265:107-a is repealed and reenacted to read as follows:
265:107-a Passenger Restraints Required.
I. No person shall drive a motor vehicle on any way unless such person has a safety belt meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards properly fastened about his or her body.
II. No person shall drive a motor vehicle on any way while carrying as a passenger a person less than 18 years of age unless such passenger has a safety belt meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards properly fastened about his or her body. The requirements of this paragraph shall not apply with respect to passengers who are required to be fastened and secured by a child restraint system under paragraph III of this section.
III. No person shall drive a motor vehicle on any way while carrying as a passenger a person less than 6 years of age unless such passenger is properly fastened and secured by a child restraint system which is in accordance with the safety standards approved by the United States Department of Transportation in 49 C.F.R. section 571.213. If the passenger is 55 inches or more in height, the provisions of this paragraph shall not apply.
IV. No person 18 years of age or older shall be a passenger in any vehicle being driven on any way unless such person has a safety belt meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards properly fastened about his or her body.
V. No person shall drive a motor vehicle on any way unless the motor vehicle was designed for and equipped with the passenger restraints which applicable federal motor vehicle standards require for that vehicle and, when required by this section, a child restraint system which is in accordance with the safety standards approved by the United States Department of Transportation in 49 C.F.R. section 571.213.
VI. This section shall not apply to any of the following:
(a) A passenger in a motor vehicle regularly used to transport passengers for hire;
(b) A passenger in a motor vehicle which is a school bus weighing more than 10,000 pounds;
(c) A passenger in a motor vehicle which is a school bus weighing less than 10,000 pounds that was manufactured without safety belts;
(d) A passenger on a school bus for whom there is an individualized education plan which contraindicates the use of restraints;
(e) A motor vehicle manufactured before 1968; a motorcycle as defined in RSA 259:63; an antique motor car or motorcycle as defined in RSA 259:4; or a motor vehicle which is being operated in a parade authorized by law or ordinance, provided that the parade vehicle is traveling at a speed of no more than 10 miles per hour;
(f) The driver of a motor vehicle making frequent stops in the course of the driver's business; or
(g) A person with a physical or mental condition which prevents appropriate restraint by a safety belt, as determined and certified by a licensed physician or advanced registered nurse practitioner.
VII. Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a violation, and shall be subject to the following fines:
(a) $25 for a first offense.
(b) $50 for a second or subsequent offense.
VIII. A violation of this section shall not be used as evidence of contributory negligence in any civil action.
IX. A conviction for violating the provisions of this section shall not preclude prosecution of any other offense for which violation of this section might constitute an element.
3 Effective Date. This act shall take effect 60 days after its passage.
The Senate turned it into a "secondary" bill, meaning the cops can only bust you for being unbelted when you have committed some other offense.
Here is the written testimony which I presented to the Senate Transportation Committee. I turned out pretty good: I got some free media out of it.
Written Testimony on HB 383; April 20, 2009
Rep. Timothy Horrigan (D-Durham)
7-A Faculty Road; Durham, NH 03824; ph: 603-868-3342
I urge the Transportation Committee and the full Senate to vote Ought to Pass on HB398.
Wearing seat belts is plain old New Hampshire commonsense, in my opinion. I personally would find it as unnatural to be in my car without a seatbelt as to be in my car on the left side of the road. Do I drive on the right side of the road just because it is against the law to do so? No, not really— although I certainly do obey the rules of the road. Do I move on over to the left side of the road when there is no oncoming traffic? No. Is the state infringing on my freedom when it tells me to stay on the right side of the road? No, not at all. I tend to be a libertarian but I think this is one of those places where the state has every right to make rules and enforce them. Wearing your seatbelts is as basic as driving on the right side of the road. In fact it is even more basic: some countries drive on the left, which is just as safe as driving on the right—as long as everyone is driving on the same side. Wearing my seatbelts is, in my opinion, as basic a precaution as driving on the same side of the road as the other drivers, having lights on your car, keeping the windshield clear, and being sober.
Seat belts do not prevent all injuries. Indeed, approximately a quarter of all motor vehicle fatalities are people who were wearing seat belts. But your odds of survival are much better when you buckle up. Not only that, your odds of being conscious and mobile after a wreck are greater after a crash, which means you can help the other drivers and the first responders deal with the emergency. Even before the wreck, you can control the car better if you are belted in behind the wheel rather than being tossed around the inside of your car.
Rep. Jordan Ulery, in an email he sent me explaining why he opposed seat belt usage, stated: "The number of fractured collarbones, ribs, pelvises, backs, dislocated shoulders and neck injuries I have treated because of the presence of a standard issue, non-custom lap and shoulder restraint system is enormous." He doesn't say how enormous the number was, but he is paramedic and an expert in the field of motor vehicle accidents, so I am sure it was indeed a large number. However, I am still in favor of seat belt use: the vast majority of those victims Rep. Ulery treated would have suffered even more serious injuries had they not been wearing their seat belts: they would have hit the windshield, or the dashboard, or an airbag (which is dangerous in and of itself.) In some cases, they might have been ejected from the vehicle. Yes the seat belts may have quote-unquote "caused" the injuries Rep. Ullery describes: but they also, in a large percentage of cases, simultaneously prevented even more serious injuries.
You will doubtless hear many tragic stories during your deliberations concerning people who are trapped in the wreckage of their cars: sometimes cars do plunge into bodies of water or even catch on fire. And when that sort of thing happens to you, you don't want to be trapped in your car. Luckily, it takes only a split second to reach down and unfasten your belt. Your odds of escape are in fact much better if you have your seat belt on. And, if you end up needing to be cut free from the wreckage, rest assured that our first responders, such as Rep. Ulery, can deal with your seat belt once they have cut away all the sheet metal.
(Jordan Ulery is a very conservative state rep who was adamantly against seatbelts: he wasn't just against the law, he was against the belts as well.)
The Senate tabled the bill. I wrote the following letter to the Dover, NH Foster's Daily Democrat, which was published on May 29, 2009, as part of a futile effort to revive the bill:
Original URL (subject to link rot):
Were seat belts used?
Since then, the paper actually has started mentioning seat belt use in its articles. But the Senate never un-tabled the bill.
October 10, 2009, the prime sponsor of HB 383, Sally Kelly
nearly killed in a car crash, right around the corner from her
home, on Route 4 (the road I drive to get to Concord.) She would have
died had she not been wearing her seat belt. Another state rep, Gina
Hutchinson (D-Derry) also nearly got killed in a crash on January 17,
2010, also not far from her home.
A much smaller irony is that a motorcycle helmet bill came before the House in 2010— and I actually actively worked to kill it, on "Live Free or Die" grounds. My reasoning was primarily that the seatbelt is an integral part of the car. Driving without the seatbelt is like driving without the headlights or the wipers. A motorcycle helmet, however, is not an integral part of the vehicle, hence it is an affront to liberty to mandate wearing the helmet. (That's my rationalization, and I am sticking to it.)
October 12, 2009 WMUR-TV story: Rep. Kelly was in bad shape but still able to give an interview.