SPRINGFIELD — If you are riding in a vehicle in Illinois — no matter where you are seated — you better be wearing a seat belt.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — If you are riding in a vehicle in Illinois — no matter where you are seated — you better be wearing a seat belt.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed legislation making it mandatory for everyone in a vehicle to wear a seat belt, beginning July 1.

Police officers can stop a vehicle, if they see someone in the backseat without a seat belt. Fines will start at $25, the same as they are now for seat-belt violations. Previously, any adult not driving or riding in the front passenger seats didn’t have to buckle up.

Illinois’ first seat-belt law was enacted in 1985.

“Back in that time when it was first passed, maybe two out of every three people used a seat belt. Now it’s more than 90 percent,” Quinn said. “We want to keep that percentage going higher, and that’s why we have the law we’re signing today — to get the word out that we can save lives through the use of a seat belt.”

Recently appointed Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau praised the legislation at a bill-signing event Monday in Chicago.

“This is common-sense legislation in which we’re very much in support of,” Grau said. “We’re going to work very closely with other state and local agencies to make sure these laws are enforced.”

The law makes Illinois the 15th state to make wearing a seat belt mandatory for everyone in a vehicle, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that says it advocates for highway safety.

State Sen. Ron Sandack, like Grau, said that because wearing a seat belt is common sense, it doesn’t need to be codified.

“My kids are already in their safety belts, my family always utilizes it, but we don’t need the law to tell us to put safety belts on,” said the Downers Grove Republican.

Additionally, Sandack voiced concern about the ripple effects of the expanded seat-belt requirements.

“It would be a convenient mechanism to pull people over. So do I think it’s going to be utilized property? Sure. And do I think there’s a high probability that it will be used aggressively and maybe improperly? Absolutely,” Sandack said.

This past year, the Illinois State Police issued 96,246 seat-belt violations, said the department. So far this year, 37,572 seat belt violations were issued. Whether those numbers will jump because of the new law is unknown.

Lt. Gerry Bustos, of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department, said his office won’t be issuing tickets, until it’s undertaken a public education campaign. He admitted, though, that spotting the violations might be tough.

“The officers are going to need to see that somebody is not wearing a seat belt, and my guess (is that) the backseat is going to be kind of difficult for a police officer to see inside,” Bustos said. 

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