Not wearing a seat belt is dangerous.  It puts you at risk, and it puts others at risk.  If you are driving and not wearing a seatbelt, you could be ejected from the car, causing injury to yourself and putting your passengers’ lives in danger, as well as the lives of other motorists on the roadway.  Many studies over the years have proven that seat belts save lives and reduce injuries in car accidents.  Nowadays, it is difficult to drive on a major highway and not see an electronic sign proclaiming “Buckle Up! Seatbelts Save Live!”  

New Jersey takes seat belt usage seriously and rightfully so.  Police officers can issue tickets for failing to wear a seat belt.  The Passenger Automobile Seat Belt Usage Act of 1984 made seat belts mandatory in New Jersey.  Now, New Jersey has taken the law one step farther.  In a recent decision, the state’s appeals court ruled that failing to wear a seat belt can support a criminal conviction if accompanied by aggravating factors.  On August 10, 2007, Kirby Lenihan lost control of her car and crashed into a guard rail.  She was injured, and her passenger was killed.  Neither was wearing a seat belt.  Police suspected that the driver and passenger were “huffing” –inhaling the propellants of aerosol cans to get high.  The driver was indicted on charges of vehicular homicide and a second-degree violation of N.J.SA. 2C:40-18.  N.J.S.A. 2C:40-18 is the statute encompassing “violation of law intended to protect public health and safety.”  

The driver argued that the state was improperly expanding the seat belt law by using it as a predicate offense to 2C:40-18.  The case ultimately went to the appeals court, and the Appellate Division held that the state’s seat belt law was “intended to protect the public health and safety.” 

The key thing to keep in mind is the next time you are on the road, be sure to buckle up.  If not, you could be injured or killed and, in some instances, if you are not wearing a seat belt and are doing something that endangers the public health and safety, you could be convicted of a crime.

If you are injured or you know someone who has been injured in a car accident as a result of another person’s negligent or criminal behavior, call us.  We are here for you, and we can help.  The consultation is free and you owe it to yourself to make sure your rights are protected.

Stephen Di Stefano is an attorney in Stark & Stark’s Marlton, New Jersey office, specializing in Accident & Personal Injury Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Di Stefano.