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Bolinsky, Government Officials Raise Awareness For New Seat Belt Law



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NEWINGTON — All rear seat vehicle passengers will now be quite a bit safer when traveling in Connecticut thanks to the advocacy and perseverance of a Newtown lawmaker and several key supporters.

On September 27, Newtown State Representative Mitch Bolinsky (R-106), along with Governor Ned Lamont, staff from the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) Office of Highway Safety, Jennifer Homendy, newly-appointed of chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and representatives from AAA gathered at CTDOT headquarters to mark the occasion.

Beginning Friday, October 1, a new Connecticut law will require all passengers, including those in the back seats, to buckle up. The legislation enacting the new law passed the Connecticut House and Senate in June and was signed by the governor in July, marking the end of a long journey that Bolinsky initiated when first proposing the safety measure years ago.

Prior Connecticut back-seat occupant protection regulations only required rear-seat passengers under 16 to buckle-up, even though proper restraint saves lives at any age. The revised law is expanded to include all passengers.

The new law is subject to secondary enforcement, meaning drivers cannot be pulled over just because there is an unbelted adult in the back seat. However, law enforcement can issue a fine for the unbelted passenger if the driver is pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding. The fine is $50 if the driver is 18 or older and $75 if the driver is under 18.

Between 2017 and 2020, there were more than 12,589 injuries of rear seat occupants in Connecticut. During this same period, there were 61 fatalities according to state data.

Bolinsky spent several terms securing legislative support for this and other lifesaving, car safety measures to ensure final passage in the state legislature, and over the years, many experts have testified in support of this initiative. In 2017, Newtown’s Dr Neil Chaudhary, CEO and traffic safety consultant of the Pressure Group, was Bolinsky’s guest and expert witness, providing research data on the impact of passengers not wearing seat belts in the back seat of a motor vehicle.

Chaudhary was present at the press conference.

“I’ve been chasing this for a decade,” said Bolinsky, who spends his time away from legislative duties teaching driver’s education. “It’s such a common sense thing.”

Bolinsky said that the law is estimated to “work out to 17 lives saved per year” if the state can get the same level of compliance for those in the back seat as it does for those in the front seat. In addition to saving lives, it keeps families together, said Bolinsky.

“I have a fundamental need to continue to plug away and make small differences that will save lives,” Bolinsky said. “This is an opportunity to do something with no negative impact on anyone, that makes really good sense.”

Bolinsky said that years of automotive safety research has shown that, in serious car crashes, unrestrained rear-seat occupants experience something called the “human collision,” in which they are tossed around the vehicle.

They become “human-missiles.” Many are thrown into the driver or other passengers, causing serious injuries or avoidable fatalities. Some are ejected, resulting in almost certain death. The National Highway Traffic Association states that unbelted rear seat occupants are three times more likely to perish than buckled ones — and even buckled front-seat passengers are 20% more likely to be fatally injured by unbuckled, airborne rear seat riders.

“By updating our state’s motor vehicle statutes to include rear seat belt use, along with existing front-seat safety-belt requirements, Connecticut makes a statement about how we value every life, its potential and all it can be,” said Bolinsky.

“Connecticut was one of the first states to pass a mandatory seat belt law more than 30 years ago; however, it only applied to drivers and front-seat passengers,” Lamont said during the ceremony. “I applaud and recognize the efforts of those lawmakers and safety advocates who pushed for passage of this lifesaving measure for more than 20 years. With this new law, passengers and drivers in Connecticut will be safer.”

“Our goal is zero fatalities. Unrestrained passengers in the back seat can become projectiles in the event of a crash, causing serious injuries or fatalities,” CTDOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said. “This new law will aid in our ongoing effort to reduce motor vehicle fatalities and serious injuries. With an increased number of adults riding in the back seats with ride sharing services, this new law is a lifesaving measure for all Connecticut residents on our roadways.”

“This victory is due to the hard work of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, my AAA colleagues, a bipartisan group of legislators, and more than 100 Connecticut organizations across the state, from first responders to medical associations,” Alec Slatky, director of public and government affairs for AAA Northeast said. “Riding unbelted can result in injuries that are as devastating as they are preventable. Everyone should buckle up — in every seat, on every trip.”

“The more we can get those in a vehicle to wear their seat belts, the more lives we’ll save, and that’s why this law is so important,” said Homendy. “I know this was a multiyear effort by a large coalition of dedicated safety leaders in this wonderful state. I know it’s been a long journey but I’m so glad you didn’t give up because lives will be saved. All passengers in a vehicle need to be protected. All passengers need to wear their seat belt every single time they’re in a vehicle.”

“The message is simple. Seat belts save lives,” State Representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey (D-Fairfield) said. “I am proud that after many years of advocacy we were able to require the use of back seat seat belts for all ages here in Connecticut. Passing this law is an important step in helping all who travel by car to change their behaviors and buckle up.”

“Seat belts save lives in every seating position in a car,” Dr Shea Gregg, chief of trauma at Bridgeport Hospital, said. “Today, public health, industry, legislators, and the trauma care community stand together to reduce the unnecessary tragedies associated with unrestrained rear seat victims of car crashes.”

“The Connecticut seat belt laws are specifically tailored to protect 16- and 17-year-old drivers, who statistically are more likely to become involved in a collision,” Colonel Stavros Mellekas, commanding officer of the Connecticut State Police, said. “Our troopers will be working enforcement to increase public awareness of the value of seat belt use. The overall goal is increased safety on all Connecticut highways. It takes about three seconds to buckle up. Take the time to save your life or the life of someone else.”

“Passengers in the back who use a seat belt are more likely to survive a crash and less likely to injure others during a crash; unrestrained adults become living projectiles and are a lethal danger to everyone else in the vehicle with them,” Kevin Borrup, executive director of the Injury Prevention Center at Connecticut Children’s, said. “This law is an important strengthening of Connecticut’s seat belt law and making everyone safer.”

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

Newtown’s State Representative Mitch Bolinsky is pictured with Governor Ned Lamont in the background during a ceremony marking the initiation of a new state law mandating all rear seat passengers in motor vehicles to wear seat belts. Bolinsky and others had been pushing for this reform for several years, and it became effective October 1. (See separate coverage of new laws taking effect related to businesses on Page B10).
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1 comment
  1. jpsullivan50 says:

    What happened to “my body, my choice”?

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