Police chiefs get behind mandatory seat-belt law in New Hampshire

| 1/18/2005

New Hampshire police chiefs have switched sides in the debate over broadening the state’s seat-belt law. For the first time, the chiefs’ association supports making seat-belt use mandatory for all, not just those under 17.

“Times change, and I guess people do,” Stephen Savage, the association’s president, told The Associated Press. “There is compelling evidence that it is necessary – including an alarming rise in fatalities.”

Last year, 167 people died in traffic accidents in New Hampshire, up 31 percent from the previous year. Officials estimate at least 41 of the fatalities in calendar year 2004 could have been prevented if seat belts had been used.

New Hampshire, whose motto is “Live Free or Die,” has long resisted a universal seat-belt law, though every other state has one. It claims 63 percent usage from encouraging people to buckle up voluntarily. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said its own survey in 2003 found 50 percent usage in the state.

With the police chiefs’ endorsement, Rep. James Pilliod, R-Belmont, recently filed legislation that would permit police to ticket unbelted drivers and passengers in vehicles pulled over for another traffic violation, such as speeding or a bad taillight.

Similar rules already are in place in 28 other states. Twenty-one states allow police to pull over drivers solely for not wearing their seat belts.