News & Press

Gablinske Joins Public Safety Officials to Highlight Importance of Primary Seat Belt Law

Thursday, March 11, 2010 Source: State.RI.US

In light of this week’s tragedy in Warwick where 42-year-old Steven Barlow was not wearing a seat belt was thrown from his vehicle and killed, Rep. Douglas W. Gablinske (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren) today held a news conference to discuss his legislation to require all drivers in the state to wear seat belts.

Joining Representative Gablinske were Captain Darren Delaney from the Rhode Island State Police; Michael Lewis, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation; Colonel Joseph P. Moran III, President of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association; Beatrice Perez, Program Manager of the Injury Control Program for the Department of Health and Joee Lindbeck from Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s office.

The legislation (2010-H7085) would make the failure to wear a seat belt while operating a motor vehicle a primary offense, rather than a secondary offense. Currently, drivers in Rhode Island can only be cited for failure to wear a seat belt if they are pulled over for another offense.

“This is one of the greatest public safety issues facing our state. It seems like every week we hear a different story about someone who has been killed in a car accident because he or she wasn’t wearing a seat belt,” said Representative Gablinske. “I cannot imagine the pain and frustration that family members of the accident victims must face knowing that maybe, just maybe, if their loved one had worn a seat belt, he or she would be alive today.”

Representative Gablinske said he is aware that the minority community is concerned that his legislation will increase racial profiling by police officers, but he feels that one issue does not directly relate to the other.

“It is important to note that the prevention of racial profiling is parallel in importance to the need to adopt a primary seat belt law. I firmly believe the issues are comparable and compatible, but not linked. Neither one overshadows or overpowers the other,” he said.

Gablinske said his legislation stands to help the minority community. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for African Americans from birth through 14 years of age and the second leading cause of death between the ages of 15 and 24. Car crashes are also the leading cause of death for Hispanics from birth to 34 years of age. Many of these deaths occurred because the driver or passenger was not wearing a seat belt.

“With these staggering statistics, it is safe to say that the minority community desperately needs the primary seat belt law,” he continued.

The bill has the full support of the National Urban League, the ASPIRA Latino Youth Organization, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the National Conference of Black Mayors, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Meharry Medical College.

Moreover, Rhode Island stands to receive approximately $4 million in federal funding for infrastructure and education/outreach programs to help implement the legislation, if it passes. This federal funding would be put, in part, toward ensuring that racial profiling does not occur during traffic stops within Rhode Island.

Representative Gablinske’s bill was introduced on January 12 and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration. Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) has sponsored identical legislation in the Senate, which has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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