The other day I was on duty when I stopped at the Post Office to mail a package.  As I was returning to my patrol car, a woman stopped me and wanted to ask my opinion on having pets restrained in vehicles while they are in motion.  She actually did most of the talking.  She was very concerned about how pets are allowed by their owners to put their heads out the window while driving on a highway. She described herself as an “animal lover” and she is very protective of her pets. 

      She went into great detail how a Golden Retriever that belonged to her friend had a piece of gravel strike the animal in the eye causing a serious injury.  She was angry at her friend because once the dog had recovered from the injury she saw her driving down the road with the dog hanging its head out the window again.  She described this event as “animal cruelty” and she felt her friend should have her dog taken away and have to pay a heavy fine. She described her friend and others like her, as “totally irresponsible and uncaring.”

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      She stated that the new law concerning having your pet restrained in a car was a good start but did not go far enough.  She suggested that the Sparta Police become more “aggressive” in writing tickets to those people who choose to put their pets at risk.  I didn’t disagree with her in fact; I don’t think I said anything except nod and smile.  She thanked me for listening, shook my hand and got into her car.  She seemed nice enough.

     I stood their watching as she was backing her Honda Accord out of the parking space. When I realized that there was something very wrong inside her vehicle.  I motioned with my hand for her to stop.  I then walked up to her window which she was in the process of rolling down.  Inside the car were her two teen-aged daughters.  One seated in the front passenger seat and the other seated in the back seat behind the driver. Neither mom nor the kids were wearing their seatbelts.

     I politely said to her, you should make sure that everyone in your vehicle is properly restrained before you put your car in gear.  She looked at me in disbelief and then she rolled her eyes. 

She sarcastically told her daughters…”please put your belts on so the officer will let us go. He looks really busy.” 

She then mumbled, “This was sure a waste of time.” 

She then drove away.   

There is no doubt that pets are important members of our respective families and as such they have to be properly cared for and protected from harm.  Its absolutely ridiculous that an adult cannot apply the same logic when it pertains to children or other people who are passengers in their vehicle.

     There are some people in this country that consider utilizing seatbelts are a matter of “personal freedom.” However, personal freedoms stop where others are injured or killed. Thousands of studies conducted nation wide over the last thirty years all contain the same conclusion: seatbelts do save lives and reduce injuries during crashes.  The State of New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety Office of the Attorney General stated in their most recent study that; “More than 2,000 unbuckled drivers and front seat passengers were killed on New Jersey roadways in the past 10 years.”  The study also revealed that during the same time period; “700 unrestrained drivers and front seat passengers were ejected out of their vehicles during the crash and died.”

      A recent report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Board stated that; “States with secondary enforcement average only 63 percent belt use but states with primary enforcement in belt laws (including New Jersey) average 78 percent belt use.”  Most states however do not have standard laws for seat belt use.  In short the report went on to say; increasing the national seat belt use rate to 90 percent from the current 68 percent would prevent annually an estimated 5,536 fatalities, 132,670 injuries and save the nation $8.8 billion dollars.” 

       In New Jersey front seat passengers were the only occupants that were required to wear a seat belt that is until January 18, 2010 when legislation was signed into law requiring all adult back seat passengers to be seat belted. Before this became law, unbelted back seat passengers posed a significant danger to everyone else in the vehicle during the event of a car crash.  Unbelted back seat passengers become human missiles as they continue to move at the same rate of speed as the vehicle that they are traveling in until they hit something.  That something could be another passenger sitting in front of them.  What is not uncommon at all, is during the dynamics of a motor vehicle accident is unbelted passengers do get ejected from the vehicle which at times results in serious injuries or death.  A report prepared by the Center for Transportation Injury Research Sate University of New York stated; “The odds of death in a head-on crash are three times greater for unbelted back-seat passengers…even greater than for the driver.”

       The next time you are driving your car, you should certainly make sure your pets are safe and have plenty of water and food with them but your first priority is to ensure your children, passengers and yourself are all properly wearing their safety belts. 

Remember, in the State of New Jersey, driving is a privilege not a right.