NJ Legal Defense Update: Might Seatbelt Use Actually Help Drivers Avoid a DWI-DUI Arrest?

There’s nothing conclusive, but recent news regarding safety belt usage in the Garden State might have some people wondering if increased belt usage is good for reducing drunken driving arrests as well. Of course, there likely very little direct correlation between wearing a seatbelt and being stopped by a police officer for any number of other, traffic-related violations, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs (drug DUI). Yet, with more people every year wearing safety belts, police may have less reason to pull drivers over for violating this primary offense law.

As New Jersey DWI defense attorneys, I and my staff of experienced DWI lawyers know that one of the ways an individual can be issued a summons for driving while intoxicated from beer, wine or hard liquor is violating any one of dozens of other traffic laws. From seemingly minor violations like a broken tail lamp lens, to more serious offences like running a stop sign or speeding, there are a multitude of reasons why a New Jersey State Police trooper or local municipal patrolman might stop a motorist on the highway. Once stopped, a driver who exhibits signs of inebriation could find himself on the receiving end of a drunken driving summons.

Whatever the cause of the initial traffic stop, a DWI or marijuana possession conviction could spell the end of a promising career or marital relationship. Recent news reports suggest that more people are wearing their safety belts when driving, which means fewer seatbelt-related violations and, by association, fewer traffic stops. It could also be that those individuals who choose to drive drunk, or even those who may not realize they had a bit too much to drink at that family reunion, are belting up as a matter of course and avoiding one of the reasons that police can use to pull a driver over.

According to reports, the number of New Jersey drivers who are wearing their seatbelt rose once again to a record high of nearly 95 percent. This latest figure is based, according to news sources, on an observational survey undertaken earlier this year by the New Jersey Institute of Technology. It followed the most recent safety belt enforcement campaign known as “Click It or Ticket.” The nearly one-percent increase is up from the last year’s rate of 93.7 percent.

Based on news accounts, the institute found that 61 percent of back-seat passengers were wearing their safety belts, up nearly 50 percent from 2010. As for those in the back seat, adult passengers 18 and over were reportedly the least likely to put on a safety belt — those individuals tended to buckle up at a rather low rate of 35 percent, yet this is up nearly a full third from the 2010 rate of just 27 percent.

New Jersey’s Somerset County and Union County represented the highest rate of usage — 97.4 and 95.9 percent respectively. Passaic County saw the greatest increase in usage over 2010 with a more then 5-percent increase to 95.5 percent.

State law enforcement agencies and safety advocates point to the increase in safety belt usage as one main reason for a nine-percent decrease in traffic citations during the latest “Click It or Ticket” campaign with police issuing 5,865 speeding citations and making nearly 1,000 drunken driving arrests during the effort.

New Jersey front seat belt use hits all-time high, NewJerseyNewsroom.com, August 2, 2011