SPRINGFIELD – Illinois vehicle passengers – whether in the back or front seats – may soon have to strap in under legislation requiring everyone to wear seatbelts, regardless of age.
Legislation tightening the state's seat belt law has been approved by the Illinois House. It now goes to the Senate, where President John Cullerton has often backed traffic-safety measures.
Currently, safety belts are required for backseat passengers only if they're 19 or younger. The House bill that passed 61-55 on Thursday would require belts for everyone with a few exceptions, such as passengers in cabs.
Supporters call it common-sense safety legislation. Opponents say there's little evidence of a serious problem with backseat passengers being killed or injured because they weren't using seat belts.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 1,095 backseat passengers not wearing seatbelts died in 2009.
Passengers caught without a seatbelt would receive a $25 fine. Some people are exempt from the bill, including those with physical or psychological impairments that would be exacerbated by wearing a seatbelt.
Rep. Mark Beaubien, the bill's chief sponsor, said Friday he "can't fathom" why anyone would vote against the bill.
"I'd like to have them go to the funerals and attend the people who are injured for the rest of their lives on a monthly basis," the Barrington Hills Republican said. "That may change their mind."
But the close vote — it received one more vote than the minimum for passage — revealed there were many legislators wary of the bill.
Rep. Daniel Beiser, D-Alton, voted against the bill because he thought it was government intrusion into a personal choice. He said he has not seen data suggesting a link between not wearing seat belts in the backseat and fatalities means there is insufficient reason to change the status quo.
"I'm not in favor of dictating what the public should do. It's a choice," Beiser said. "As an adult, if you choose to not wear a seatbelt or put your child in harm's way, then you're making that decision."
Beaubien said, however, that driving is a privilege and not a right. He said the government has jurisdiction over privileges.
"There's a certain mentality down here on both sides of the aisle that we don't want government telling anyone what to do on anything, which is pretty much not doing our job," Beaubien said.
The bill is HB219.