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Illinois’ seat belt law a necessary intrusion

Published: Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 4:59 a.m. CST

The following editorial appeared Thursday in The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.:

(MCT) — There’s a bit of defeat built into having to make something against the law.

Going to the degree of restricting personal rights is essentially admitting that when given the option, too many people still choose to do otherwise.

In some cases, however, the end result warrants such intrusion.

In 2003, for example, Illinois law was amended to allow police to pull over drivers solely because of seat belt violations. Before the change, not using a seat belt was a secondary offense, meaning it could be added if police pulled a driver over for another violation.

The change was not without its critics, who viewed it as another case of government pushing its will on people instead of allowing personal choice.

Yet it appears to be working.

Ninety-four percent of front seat passengers in Illinois are reported to be wearing seat belts, according to the latest statistics released by Gov. Pat Quinn’s office. That’s a 1 percent increase from last year, and significantly above the national average of 84 percent.

Now attention is being turned to back-seat passengers. Under a new law this year, they are required to buckle up the same as their front-seat riders.

What remains a question is whether the mandated use of seat belts is making the roads any safer for Illinoisans.

It would seem logical to believe it has helped in some regards, but it doesn’t appear reflected in the statistics.

As of this week, 679 people have died in traffic accidents in Illinois. By the end of February, that number had already spiked from last year’s figures. By the Fourth of July, 479 people had died on Illinois roads compared to 418 for the same period the year prior.

What seems to happen is that as one factor is reduced another is ready to take its place. Distracted driving is the emerging scourge that must be addressed.

Cell phone use and texting while driving remain prevalent — especially among younger drivers — despite attempts at education. Studies have put the risk of an accident at 27 percent higher when using an electronic device behind the wheel; some have equated it to being intoxicated.

Illinois already prohibits texting while driving.

What’s needed now is a push for enforcement.

While we don’t like seeing restrictions on an individual’s right to choose, it’s a different matter when that choice puts others’ lives at risk.

©2012 The Telegraph —  (Alton, Ill.)

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