New Illinois law: buckle up or pay up

Susan Du

More than 200 new state laws – traffic and otherwise – went into effect on New Year’s Day, including one that requires all vehicular passengers, regardless of where they are seated, to wear seat belts at all times.

Previously, only front seat passengers and children in the backseat were required to wear seat belts in Illinois. Violators of the law may be fined at least $25.

Cmdr. Jason Parrott said all police officers in Evanston are aware of the new law and have the power to enforce it. However, he said he did not know if any citations have been issued yet because officers may choose to use the first month as an unofficial educational period.

“A lot of times people are not aware of the new law or ordinance that’s already in effect,” he said. “Generally we do take a little bit of time to give warnings in regards to any new law that’s passed … just to give people time to acclimate.”

During the holiday season, the Evanston Police Department informed local media of the state law changes by issuing news releases, Parrott said.

After learning about the new law, Northwestern’s SafeRide car service has been undergoing operating changes since service began this quarter on Jan. 3, coordinator Bernie Foster said.

SafeRide drivers have been informing passengers that they are now required by law to buckle up.

“All of our drivers have to follow the laws in place,” Foster said. “Since this week, I haven’t dealt directly with people not complying. In any other situation, our policy states that if they’re not complying with the SafeRide rules, we can let you out of the car.”

However, according to the law as posted on the Illinois General Assembly website, certain passengers are exempt, such as rural mail carriers, people operating motor vehicles in reverse, emergency vehicles and taxi passengers.

Because SafeRide is effectively a non-commercial taxi service, Foster said he has written to the Secretary of State’s office to inquire whether its passengers may also be exempt because they are constantly moving in and out of vehicles.

Under the new law, taxi passengers may not have to buckle up – but drivers must. Norshore Cabspokesperson Mike Deckersaid legislators “don’t consider the cab driver when they make these laws” because such a requirement may in fact be detrimental to their safety.

“It’s more dangerous for a cab driver to be buckled up with a suspicious character in the car than to run the risk of not wearing a seat belt because he could still just jump out of the car when he has to and survive,” he said. “I would take a ticket over sitting there with my seat belt on like an idiot when I have somebody in the car that’s suspicious.”

Decker said Norshore Cab has not experienced any driver safety issues with the new law thus far, and the company’s drivers have not received any citations.

Though violating the new seat belt law is punishable by a minimum fine of $25 and the possibility of additional court fees, Parrott said he doesn’t believe it will ever be a significant source of revenue for the city.

“I believe that most people … who wear (seat belts) in the front seat will continually wear them in the back seat,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to make a huge impact one way or the other. I think by keeping the public informed, most will comply.”

Currently, Iowa, Maine, New Mexico and Rhode Island have similar laws requiring all passengers to wear seat belts.

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