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New Illinois law makes passenger seat belts mandatory

A new state traffic law went into effect with the first of the year requiring all motor vehicle passengers in Illinois to wear a seat belt regardless of age or where they are located in the vehicle. Law enforcement officials believe the new seat belt rule will save lives.

Police officials claim unbelted passengers in past auto accidents have been injured or died unnecessarily. In some cases, the bodies of unrestrained passengers have become flying projectiles in vehicle accidents, causing death or serious injuries to other occupants. Law enforcement officials say most traffic accidents involve front-end collisions. A back seat is considered the safest place to be when traveling in a vehicle, unless a passenger is unrestrained.

Authorities pointed to a Henry County single-vehicle accident in which three teenagers were killed. Five teens from the same Toulon-area high school were involved in the November crash, when the 2007 Dodge in which they were riding swerved off a road near Kewanee. The Dodge traveled several hundred feet, struck a driveway and went airborne. The vehicle flipped multiple times before landing on its side.

Three passengers in the back seat were not restrained and ejected through a rear window. The 19-year-old driver and a 16-year-old male passenger survived but remain hospitalized at a Peoria medical facility with severe injuries. An accident reconstruction team noted that the rear of the vehicle remained intact in the crash. Investigators say it is likely the teens sat in the back seat would have survived if they had been wearing seat belts.

Illinois District 7 police reported that no restraining devices were worn by 86 percent of minors killed in traffic accidents in the last five years. The district reported seven teen car-crash deaths in 2011. Only one teenager was wearing a seat belt.

Police observers noted that lack of seat belt use is common outside principal cities in Illinois, where police forces are smaller and traffic is lighter. More than half all states required the use of all vehicle occupants to wear restraints before Illinois officials approved the new passenger seat belt law.

Source: Quad-City Times, "Illinois toughens its law on seat belts," Brian Wellner, Dec. 23, 2011

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