Could you imagine going to prison for not wearing your seat belt? That might be the case in New Jersey after a recent ruling from the state’s supreme court. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that failure to wear a seat belt or to require minor passengers to wear them could result in criminal charges and prison term, according to USA Today.
This ruling comes after a car accident in which the driver and the passenger were not wearing seat belts, leading to the death of the 16 year old passenger. The court said that the seatbelt law is, “clearly intended to protect public health and safety,” and if it is broken, it can be used to support criminal convictions under the law.
This ruling is not without controversy as it raises some serious questions about responsibility under the law. From a criminal law perspective, Attorney Benjamin Van Severen explains:
“Obviously the intent of the law is to promote public safety. A $20 fine for not wearing a seatbelt (or $10 fine in Wisconsin) does not have enough teeth to scare individuals into wearing seat belts. However, the larger issue is do we really want to make the driver responsible for ensuring that each passenger is wearing their seatbelt? At some point, the passenger should be deemed old enough to make a conscious decision whether or not to wear their seatbelt. If they decide to take the risk and not wear a seatbelt and then the vehicle is in an accident, I’m not sure we should be faulting the driver for their death solely on the fact that the passenger chose not to strap in.”