A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals that 43 percent of children killed in car accidents were not wearing a seat belt or buckled in properly to a car seat. Among children involved in a fatal crash in which someone died (not necessarily them), 20 percent were not properly buckled.
Rates of child fatality varied significantly from state to state, which underscores the argument that public information and state regulations can potentially have a direct impact on motor vehicle safety for children. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that seat belt usage tends to be higher for all kids in states that have tighter seat belt laws and enforcement.
In Maine, Maine Rev. Stat. Ch. 19, 1-2801 requires that children under 40 pounds be properly secured in a child safety seat in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction. The fine is $50 for a first-time offense and cannot be suspended by the court. Passengers under the age of 18 have to be wearing seat belts, and here again, the fine is $50 for a first-time offense.
From a Portland child injury lawyer standpoint, it’s important to point out that Maine does not recognize the so-called “seat belt defense.” The idea behind the seat belt defense is that since seat belts are required by law, those who weren’t wearing one at the time of a serious crash should only be entitled to receive damages in accordance with what they would have suffered had they been following the law. In other words, a plaintiff’s liability would be reduced proportionately to the extent their injuries would have been reduced had they been properly buckled. This principle is generally associated with legal doctrines of comparative negligence and failure to mitigate damages.
Although Maine does recognize comparative negligence (you can sue if you are partially at fault, as long as you are not more than half to blame), the seat belt defense isn’t recognized.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to encourage more awareness on the issue, given that traffic fatalities on the whole are increasing.
The study authors in this recent case culled information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System from between 2010 and 2014. In all, there were more than 18,000 kids under age 15 involved in fatal crashes. Of those, 16 percent lost their lives.
The state-level disparities, though, were stark. For instance, more than 50 percent of the children who died in crashes lived in the South, where seat belt laws are generally more lax.
Study authors say they hope their research will be cited by legislators looking to bolster safety regulations for children in vehicles. If state lawmakers won’t step in, they hope federal regulators will. They say that if we can improve appropriate child restraint use by just 10 percent, we could potentially slash the number of children killed in crashes from a rate of 0.94 for every 100,000 to 0.56 for every 100,000. Federal intervention is not unheard of, but traffic safety is an issue left largely to the states, even though federal authorities have been clear about the data they have collected showing seat belts and car seats save lives.
If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
43 Percent Of Children Who Died From Car Crashes Were Improperly Restrained, May 23, 2017, By Rebecca Hersher, Maine Public Radio
More Blog Entries:
Child Injuries, Deaths in Car Accidents on the Rise, NHTSA Reports, May 3, 2017, Auto Accident Lawyer Blog