Saturday, April 14, 2007

Corzine's Condition Remains Critical: Questions Swirl Over Seatbelt Usage

Gov. Corzine continues to remain sedated and is using a breathing tube to assist with breathing because of the pain due to the broken ribs, sternum, and shoulder. He underwent a second surgical procedure today to debride the wound (to prevent infections). He's in critical but stable condition and his vital signs are improving slowly. Doctors believe the tube will remain in place through Monday.

State troops say they've located the red pickup truck that they believe precipitated the accident. They've questioned the driver and no charges will be forthcoming. The driver had no idea that the accident had occurred.
State Police located and interviewed the driver of the red pickup truck they say set off the chain reaction on the Garden State Parkway that led to the crash of Gov. Jon Corzine's SUV. They have not charged him and say he did not realize he had caused an accident.

The driver, a 20-year-old Little Egg Harbor resident, told investigators he saw a white Dodge pick-up swerve into a black SUV but left the scene because he did not think he was involved.

State Police did not identify the driver, but Little Egg Harbor police said it was Kenneth Potts Jr., a restaurant worker at Harrahs Casino. He could not be reached for comment this afternoon.

Meanwhile, if you've been living in the US for the past couple of decades, the push to criminalize the failure to wear seatbelts has grown from a handful of states to one that is prevalent nationwide. Seat belt usage is up, but there are still people who choose not to wear them.
According to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of traffic fatalities in New Jersey is well below the national average. And a record-high 90 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers in New Jersey wore seat belts in 2006, the eighth-highest rate in the country. (The state of Washington is No. 1, at 96 percent.)

Statistics show that 46 percent of passenger vehicle deaths in New Jersey in 2005 involved people who were not wearing seat belts, according to state police records.

While mandatory seat belt laws were strenuously opposed in many quarters when states first started enacting them in the mid-1980s, they are now so much a part of the culture that even toddlers know to buckle up before a car starts moving.

So what might cause Governor Corzine and the others to break the law in such a risky way?

“Even the worst nervous Nellie in the world has some glimmer of a sense of invulnerability, and all of us have some of that,” said Dr. Tony Stern, a psychiatrist in Westchester County, who admits he does not wear a seat belt “100 percent of the time” himself. “And someone who is a doer and an alpha male and a multimillionaire is going to have more than the average sense of invincibility.”

The former governor of New York, Mario M. Cuomo, said in a phone interview yesterday that he, like Mr. Corzine, preferred to sit in the front seat. And while he initially found seat belts somewhat uncomfortable, he said he wore them out of a sense of duty, given the fact that he had signed the nation’s first mandatory seat belt law in 1984.

“I remember the violent opposition it received,” Mr. Cuomo said. “People didn’t like the idea of being forced to strap themselves in. When we adopted the seat belt law, it was the most unpopular thing I had done as governor.”

In New Jersey, which passed its own law shortly afterward, the use of seat belts has been on the rise. The rate was 74 percent in 2000, when New Jersey made the law stricter, allowing police officers to pull over vehicles to issue seat belt citations. Previously, they could issue such citations only if the car had been pulled over for a separate offense.

About half the states now have the stricter form of the law, and organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit group, are pushing for the rest to follow suit.
I don't get it. Wearing a seatbelt can and does save thousands of lives every year and yet people find all kinds of reasons to not wear one. New Jersey was at the forefront of imposing strict seat belt laws. Corzine knew these laws were on the books and ignored them.

The question that people are asking is why the driver of Corzine's vehicle - a state trooper - didn't require Corzine to be strapped in. It's a good question and I'm sure that the driver is probably second guessing himself over that as well. However, given that this law has been on the books for years, there's no excuse for Corzine to need to be reminded about being in a car without wearing a seatbelt.

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