Legislation Watch: Buckle Up for more Racial Profiling

Buckle up for more Racial Profiling

Buckle Up Seatbelt

The proposed Seat Belt law… in Black & White
People of Color across Massachusetts should fasten their seatbelts  in anticipation of a proposed bill that could set back previous efforts to deal with racial profiling in the bay state, which was a part of the national phenomenon of “Driving while Black”.

While a primary seat belt law has failed in Massachusetts twice before, heavily endorsed by law enforcement, this time the efforts have been pushed by the Health Care Lobby in conjunction with Children’s Hospital and others to form the B.E.S.T. Coalition (Belts Ensure a Safer Tomorrow).  The new version of the Massachusetts Primary Seat Belt Bill has been re-invented as “Natalie’s Bill” tied to a tragic story of a young girl who lost her life in a car accident.

Currently, this coalition has reached out to several groups and organizations in Communities of Color. These groups have included; NAACP-Boston, Urban League of Eastern MA, etc.  The Coalition has also dismissed concerns of increased racial profiling as best demonstrated in the article: “Lawmakers hear strong support, little resistance to Seat Belt Bill” by Colleen Quinn State House News (see below for full article)

Supporters of this bill say that any concerns about the potential for increased Racial profiling are misplaced.

The Racial Profiling study of 2004 reported that:

* 141 law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts have racial disparities above the statewide median in citations given to resident drivers who were non-white, Black, Hispanic or non-white male

* 201 law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts have racial disparities above the statewide median in citations given to non-white, Black, or Hispanic drivers

* Out of the 87 communities where a sufficient number of searches were conducted for analysis, 40 law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts are statistically significantly more likely to search non-white, Black, Hispanic or non-white male drivers compared to white drivers.
Not sure of the impact and widespread effect of Racial Profiling in Massachusetts? Don’t take my word for it… here’s the actual reports from the experts.

Racial Profiling data

Full Report by Northeastern Univ. Inst on Race & Justice Boston & Cambridge claim no Racial profiling

Report shows data from MA State Police, 340 police depts and 25 special police units

Executive Summary Report

More info on Racial Profiling


Contact Legislators and tell them you are against

2011 Massachusetts Primary Seat Belt Bill “Natalie’s Bill” – Bill#: HB 2401/ SB 1211 (Public Safety Committee)


because of the negative impact on Racial Profiling.



Patricia A. Haddad Speaker Pro Tempore (D) Somerset


State House

Room 370 Boston, MA 02133

Phone:617-722-2600  Fax:617-722-2313


District Office

Town Office Building, Room 11

140 Wood Street Somerset, MA 02726

Phone:508-646-2821  Fax:508-324-0993



Patricia D. Jehlen Senator (D) Somerville


State House

Room 513 Boston, MA 02133

Phone:617-722-1578  Fax:617-722-1117




Article from the State House Press Service


By Colleen Quinn

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 16, 2011…..Seat belts
save lives and money, prevent serious injuries,
and police should be able to pull over drivers
who are not buckled up, proponents of changing
the state’s seat belt law argued at the State House Thursday.

Parents, police, paramedics, doctors and
lawmakers bombarded members of the Joint
Committee on Public Safety with statistics and
anecdotes to prove their point, hoping to
convince them to make not wearing a belt a primary offense.

In Massachusetts police can ticket someone for
not wearing one, but under the state’s so-called
secondary enforcement law cannot pull them over
for it. Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad
(D-Somerset) and Sen. Patricia Jehlen
(D-Somerville) have sponsored bills (S 1211 and H
2401) to toughen enforcement.

Opponents of changing the law argue it amounts to
too much government intervention and would lead
to more racial profiling by police. In previous
sessions, the seat beat bill has twice failed in the House on close votes.

Gov. Deval Patrick stayed away from the sometimes
contentious debate in the past, saying he did not
like the idea of leaving federal money on the
table by not adopting tougher regulations. The
state misses out on $13.6 million in federal
grant money by not making it primary offense. But
Patrick, once the Justice Department’s top civil
rights enforcer, has expressed concern about the
potential for racial profiling.

States with primary enforcement laws see higher
seat belt usage that leads to less fatalities,
proponents said during the hearing. Massachusetts
ranks 48th in the nation in seat belt use, with
only New Hampshire behind among the New England states.

If the law is changed, about 18 lives a year
would be saved and there would a 10 percent jump
in people buckling up, advocates say.
Massachusetts has a 74 percent belt use rate,
compared to 97 percent in Oregon – a state with a
primary offense law, according to advocates
quoting statistics compiled by the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“I have seen more than my share of carnage on our
highways. What has often frustrated me is that
carnage was avoidable if the occupant had done
one simple thing – put on their seat belt,”
Northborough Police Chief Mark Leahy said.

Bill Cyr, a critical care transport nurse for
Boston MedFlight, said the helicopters
transported 360 car accident victims in 2010.
Most were not wearing their belts, he said.

“I rarely have to transport crash victims who
were wearing their seat belts,” Cyr said.

One committee member expressed doubt the law would change habits.

Rep. Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick) said he when
he was a police officer in Connecticut, a state
that tickets drivers for not wearing belts, he
often saw people without them on.

“If we pursue this and make it a law, I’d want to
know it was actually going to work. I don’t know
if a $50 fine is going to make someone who has
never worn their seat belt, and they are in their
40s and 50s, I don’t know if that is really going to work,” Boldyga said.

Advocates acknowledged the fines would have to be
high enough for drivers to take notice.

Dr. Gregory Parkinson, from the Massachusetts
Medical Society, said states that switched from
secondary to primary enforcement saw a 10 percent
jump in belt use during the first year. Thirty
states changed their laws, Parkinson said.

Mary Maguire, the director of public and
legislative affairs for AAA of Southern New
England, said her advocacy for the law stems not
solely from her job, but from being a mother. She
received a phone call in the middle of the night
every mother dreads. Her 17-year-old son Alex was
involved in a terrible crash on Rte. 495 after
falling asleep at the wheel. He was trapped in
his truck for more than two hours and it took
rescuers two sets of the Jaws of Life to pry him
from the vehicle, she said. The police told her
they were amazed he survived, and said it was
only because he wore his seat belt, she told committee members.

“I cut my son’s seat belt out of his mangled
pickup truck and saved it so I would never forget
what saved him, what saved me, and what saved our family,” Maguire said.

Maguire said there are many families with similar
stories, but not all with happy endings.
Stiffening the seat belt law would lead to less
grief, she and other mothers said.

“Don’t deny the citizens of Massachusetts the
life-saving gift of a stronger, more enforceable law,” she said.

Barbara Spivak, a physician from Newton, was not
as lucky. She lost her son in a fatal car crash
last August. He was less than a mile away from
his home when he hit a tree speeding. He died instantly.

“I will never know if my son would be alive today
if he wore a seat belt. I strongly suspect he
would have survived,” Spivak said. “I know my
life changed forever in one instant. It would
have taken two seconds for my son to put his seat belt on.”

Haddad, who sponsored the bill in the House, said
she understands the opposition to it – possible
racial profiling and protecting people’s right to
make their own choices. But she compared getting
into a car and not buckling up to drunk driving.
Both are bad decisions that cost lives, she said.

“If people are not going to be reasonable, and
ultimately the cost of their care comes to the
state, then we can make a rule,” Haddad said. “It
is not a privilege to get in that car and not wear your seat belt.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) said she
was formerly a “non-believer” in the primary
enforcement bill and voted against it. “I would
not vote against it again,” she said.

Originally she worried about racial profiling.
But she changed her mind once she became the
co-chair of a commission on brain injuries. One
in seven people in the state do not wear their
belts, and 50 percent of the people killed in car
crashes were not belted, other advocates said. In
Massachusetts car accidents are the leading cause
of death in people ages 5 to 34, Chandler said,
referencing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Chandler said her husband was among those who did
not want anyone telling him “what to do in his
car.” Then their best friend was killed in an
accident when he was ejected from his car. He was not wearing a belt.

“From that day on my husband put on his seat
belt,” Chandler said. “In Massachusetts we
believe in evidence-based policy. We have so much
evidence on the case of primary seat belts it is staggering.”

Chandler suggested Massachusetts institute a law
similar to Michigan’s where after three years the
state hired an independent authority to look at
whether racial profiling occurred once the law passed.




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