Rhode Island’s General Assembly acted decisively last month on an issue that will produce benefits for motorists for decades to come. Faced with a host of complex and high profile issues, especially in the activity-packed closing days of the session, legislators demonstrated the will and found the time to make Rhode Island’s primary seat belt law permanent.
When first passed two years ago, the seat belt law included a sunset provision that would have allowed it to expire at the end of June this year. Certainly, a piece of traffic safety legislation related to an existing law could have easily been overlooked by the Assembly in the final days. But it wasn’t. And the result, simply put, is that the legislature this year saved lives.
Historically, in other states that have passed a primary seat belt law, the seat belt use rate among motorists has climbed by approximately 10 to 15 percent following the law’s enactment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that over the next decade, the permanent law in Rhode Island may result in 35 fewer highway fatalities and 850 fewer catastrophic injuries to motorists. What’s more, Rhode Island taxpayers and employers can expect to save nearly $250 million in health care and other costs resulting from unbelted crashes.
AAA Southern New England and its partners at the Rhode Island Traffic Safety Coalition wish to acknowledge House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Majority Leaders Nicholas Mattiello and Dominick Ruggerio and bill sponsors Representative Anastasia Williams and Senator Joshua Miller for their steadfast leadership on this important public safety issue. By acting as they did, Rhode Island legislators sent an unequivocal message that when it comes to safety on the Ocean State’s roadways, motorists will not take a back seat.
Lloyd Albert is senior vice president of public/government affairs at AAA Southern New England in Providence.