Let's turn back another attack on seat belt law

If it sometimes seems as if we keep writing the same editorials, it's because in Maine we keep re-arguing the same issues.

Now the Legislature is thinking about rolling back the law passed just three years ago making failure to use a seat belt a primary offense.

Up until 2008, it was a secondary offense, meaning a driver could be cited only when stopped for another offense.

Since 2008, police have been able to cite drivers for nothing more than failure to wear a seat belt. The first-offense fine is $50, although police often let offenders go with a warning.

Still, the change rubs some people the wrong way, including self-described libertarian Sen. Ronald Collins, R-Wells, who believes in seat belts, but does not believe in government ordering him to wear them.

But there is a problem applying libertarian approaches to human health-care issues. While no one likes government telling them what to do, nobody believes we can turn away mangled or sick people at the emergency room entrance.

At least we hope nobody believes that.

However, when non-seat-belt-wearing accident victims show up at our hospitals, their injuries are nearly always far worse than seat belt wearers.

What's more, driving under the influence, speeding, reckless driving and failure to wear seat belts also seem to be a cluster of behaviors common to risk-taking individuals.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Committee says more than half of fatal crashes occur at night and two-thirds of the people killed at night are not wearing seat belts.

So, non-seat-belt-wearers are more likely to become involved in serious accidents.

When that happens, prudent seat-belt-wearing, insurance-carrying members of society too often end up paying the hospital bills of non-seat-belt-wearing people. And those bills are often eye-poppingly large.

Dr. Erik Steele, chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, told the Legislature's Transportation Committee on Tuesday that Medicaid paid out, on average, $24,500 for crash victims who were wearing seat belts at the time of their accidents.

Medicaid paid out roughly $74,000 per patient for people who were not wearing belts, according to a story appearing in the Bangor Daily News.

Steele also said in a previous review of Medicare patients at EMHS, 10 of 11 accident victims whose bills were in excess of $100,000 were not wearing seat belts at the time of their accidents, according to the BDN.

"I would like to remind you that this is a tax, this is a fee to subsidize the unwise decisions of other people," another doctor, Kenneth Christian, told lawmakers.

People who do not wear seat belts are much more likely to be thrown from vehicles as they roll or collide, and are far more likely to suffer debilitating head injuries, some of which require lifelong care — again, often at taxpayer expense.

There is, of course, a libertarian streak in most Americans. Nobody likes government interference in their lives.

But, when one group of people must pay for the foolishness of another, then we all suddenly have an active interest in discouraging their foolish behavior.

The Transportation Committee should follow the advice of police, physicians, hospitals, automakers, emergency personnel and insurance companies.

This bill ought not to pass.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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 's picture

by the sun's argument

we cannot engage in any risk taking behavior? how about skiers, snowborders, rockclimbers, mountianeers, mt bikers, sky divers, race car drivers, snowmobiliers, atv's, ect.....
we are entitled to take risk. you cannot legislate that away without a loss of liberty. one is required to have insurance to drive a car not true with the other activities above.

AL PELLETIER's picture


Jeff, point taken, so perhaps we should legislate that all those folks who love to put themselves in harms way be required, by law, to show poof of health insurance before buying an off road vehicle, before being allowed on a ski slope, before being allowed by a park ranger to climb a mountain? These risk takers without health insurance are what help drive our insurance premiums through the roof and health care out of control, but I would never support such a bill as this would be to intrusive. But think about it, and I'll bet one of our Augusta legislators with lots of time on his hands might take my comments seriously and write such a bill, scary huh ?
As Ron wrote, public roads are publicly controlled and the activities you listed are not. Sounds like you were a pretty darn good cop, Ron.

RONALD RIML's picture

Thanks Al....

Evidently Jeff just didn't consider that some Idiot would actually try skiing down a road, screw himself up, and then try sueing because the state plowed the snow off.......

RONALD RIML's picture

They're doing these activities on public roads????

Since when????

AL PELLETIER's picture

your right

Paul , I couldn't agree with you more! Why should legislation be passed to make automobile occupants safer with a seat belt law but allow motorcyclists to kill themselves all day long when a helmet law would save many lives. Go figure? I advocate any law that is not drastically
intrusive in our individual freedoms and will save lives. I don't think seat belts and helmets are that intrusive when you consider the lives that could be saved and increased medical expenses incurred by those who like taking risks.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The Pirate will support the

The Pirate will support the current seat belt law when everyone on a motorcycle is required to wear a helmet. Till then, the seat belt law is a sham.

RONALD RIML's picture

Don't throw out the baby with the bath water......

Illinois is a 'Helmet-Free State" - no age restrictions. When I was a cop there, it was my own, personal decision to cut 'helmet-less' riders absolutly no slack on discretionary tickets. You're speeding - you get a ticket. Loud pipes? Ticket. Accident violation? Ticket. Rolling stop at a sign...ticket. If you don't care - I don't care......

Now if the riders cared enough to wear a brain-cage - I cared enough to cut 'em some slack. Figured they just might have the sense to heed my 'verbal warning' and we didn't need a ticketr to get their attention. 'Fast Learners' is what I called them. Slow learners needed a little extra education.

Now if we could just teach our legislators.........

Maybe I should have brought them around to a few bike accidents I handled when those skulls hit an immovable object.

AL PELLETIER's picture


I should have said Senator Collins R-Wells and not Senator Thomas on my post. Senator Thomas has better things to do like dealing with whoopie pies.

Judith Abbott's picture

Seat Belt Law

Click or ticket, its revenue.

AL PELLETIER's picture

seat belts

Seat belts save lives, plain and simple. How hard is it to buckle up ? Is 2 seconds of your precious time worth your life ? Keep that law on the books and work on a law banning the use of any device in a moving vehicle that takes your attention away from the road. Cell phone use in vehicles has been totally proven to be as, if not more, dangerous then drunk drivers.
If Senator Thomas wants to do something productive with his time in Augusta, this is the kind of legislation he should be working on. This type of legislation would save many lives. His bill only encourages foolishness. PERIOD !

 's picture

one could argue

that his bill encourages personal responsibility. we dont need a nanny state.

RONALD RIML's picture

Don't like government telling you what to do???

Then get your butt off of government supported roads.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

New self portrait, V?....You

New self portrait, V?....You clean up pretty good. The parrot sez you're almost as handsome as the Pirate. But then, he is not without bias. He's smart enough to know who feeds him. 0O:-)

Mark Elliott's picture

and who supports the

and who supports the government Ron?

RONALD RIML's picture

Certainly not the Tea-Party



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