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New Safety Belt Law Stirs Debate

Aired May 20, 2003 - 19:26   ET


BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR: A Memorial Day this weekend will mean beaches and sun for millions, but doctors and nurses know it also means a number of car crashes. And death could easily have been prevented, we are told.
Every year, an estimated 9,200 people die because they were not wearing their seat belt. Now the government kicking off a new campaign to try and change some minds on this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From coast to coast starting May 19, if you don't click it, expect a ticket. Cops write tickets because seat belts save lives. So click it or ticket.


HEMMER: This issue, of course, is not whether seat belts are good or not but whether or not the government should force people to use them. That's why there is a debate on this and that's why we're talking about.

Defense attorney Jayne Weintraub is with us live in Miami. Jenny, good evening to you.

In Los Angeles, I didn't hear you there. We'll bring up your microphone, get it straightened out. Chuck Hurley from the National Safety Council. Chuck, thanks for your time, as well.


HEMMER: Chuck, why do you believe this message is not getting out there? The percentages of people wearing their seat belts really has not changed for about a 10-year period.

HURLEY: Actually, that's not true. Belt use has gone from about 61 percent in 1997 to 75 percent today, but that's still one of the lowest belt use rates of any country in the developed world.

HEMMER: So then your push now is to do what? How do you get people to listen, Chuck?

HURLEY: Well, I'm here in California. People are listening. California, Oregon, Washington state and Hawaii all have world class belt use rates, at over 90 percent. I don't feel any loss of freedom out here in California.

But the difference really is teenagers. California has half the rate of teen unbelted fatalities as in Florida, for example.

HEMMER: To Jayne, I think we've got your microphone thrown up right now. You don't wear a seat belt, do you?

JAYNE WEINTRAUB, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's not a matter of whether or not I wear a seat belt. It's whether the government should have a place in telling me that I have to wear a seat belt or not. That's really the issue that's at hand. It's a matter of common sense.

Would I let my kids not wear a seat belt? Of course not, it's a safety issue. Do you think I think it ought to be legislate, no I don't. I don't think we need federal or state spending money to be telling us that we need a safety belt on us.

HEMMER: So Jayne, you're saying keep the law out of it, is that right?

WEINTRAUB: I'm saying keep the law out of it. Look, you know, smoking cigarettes is bad for you, everyone knows that. It's not illegal, it's common sense. I wouldn't let my kids smoke and I don't smoke, but it's not illegal. And we can't let the government come into our lives in every aspect of our lives.

HEMMER: Chuck, what is the place of the government in this argument?

HURLEY: Well, she raises some interesting issues, but frankly today in Illinois the legislature just sent to the governor a good strong belt law by about a two-to-one margin thanks to the leadership of senator John Collagen (ph). The public does support good common sense laws.

And to drive the point home, if we can get the rest of the country where California, Oregon and Washington state and Hawaii have proven we can go, we could save 4,000 lives every year. There are not many ways that the National Safety Council knows how to save 4,000 lives. We believe this is a very legitimate effort.

HEMMER: Jayne, what about the argument that it saves money across the board, insurance costs, Medicaid costs, et cetera, saves taxpayers cash just by buckling it?

WEINTRAUB: And do you think that by having it on the books as a law that changes any of your statistics? I don't. I think that the only statistic it's going to change is that highway patrol officers who have a statistic that they need to keep quoted of giving tickets would maintain their status quo with seatbelts laws going up. I don't think you need to legislate these laws.

HEMMER: Chuck, you say it does. Tell us more?

HURLEY: I can tell you, at the National Safety Council we consider law enforcement to be the best friends that highway safety has. In fact, good laws well enforced are really what this campaign is about. Air bag and seatbelt safety campaign of the council really is focusing on getting belt use up and bringing fatalities down. HEMMER: Chuck, about what about the state level? Forcing states to do more of this? Is there a part there, and if so, what's the argument to get the federal government trying to get states to act on this?

HURLEY: Well, the Bush administration, not known for being wild- eyed liberals on this issue, is providing some financial incentives, which really is just getting back to the state, the Medicaid and other taxpayer funds that the federal government will be saving if belt use goes up.

HEMMER: I'm sure you'd like that, Jayne?

WEINTRAUB: Well, in Florida, for example, we are losing money every day. We're losing children from the Department of Children and Family Services. There is not enough money. And we're losing children. It's not because we don't have a safety belt on them, it's because there's no money in our legislature, so to put an issue of law enforcement and safety belt usage to me is inconsistent. As a matter of fact, in Florida we don't even have helmet laws anymore.

HEMMER: One more quick follow-up on this. What about setting an example for kids? Getting the parents to do it so the kids follow?

WEINTRAUB: But it doesn't have to be a law. Of course, you should set an example for your children. I don't pull out of a driveway without my kids having their safety belts on. But that doesn't mean that it has to be a law. You have to be a good mom, and common sense dictates that, not in the law.

HEMMER: And it sounds like you're a pretty good mom. Jayne, thanks. Jayne Weintraub in Miami and Chuck Hurley out in L.A. Thanks again. Have a good, safe, memorial weekend this coming weekend, all right?

HURLEY: Thank you.


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