Death of Math Genius, Wife, Underscores Need for Backseat Belt Use

Recently on the New Jersey Turnpike, a traffic collision claimed the life of famed mathematician John F. Nash Jr. and his wife, Alicia, after they were thrown from the back of a taxi. Authorities are continuing to investigate the crash, but they do know the pair were not wearing their seat belts. seatbelt.jpg

Nash, 86, won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994, and his story of overcoming mental illness was the basis for the film entitled, “A Beautiful Mind.”

We all know that seat belt use saves lives. But there is a pervasive misconception – underscored by a patchwork of state laws that often don’t require seat belts for adults riding in the back seat (especially of taxis, limousines and other commercial vehicles) – that seems to indicate it’s safe to forgo a belt in the back seat. It’s not.

A number of legislators are spearheading various efforts to change the laws on the books as a way to improve safety, but also to drive home the message that seat belts are necessary for all passengers.

North Carolina’s seat belt law is codified in G.S. 20-135.2A. The law requires all occupants of motor vehicles to don a seat belt while the vehicle is in a forward motion on a street or highway in the state. However, there are a number of exceptions, including:

  • The driver or occupant of a non-commercial vehicle has a physical or mental condition that prevents appropriate use of the seat belt;
  • A motor vehicle isn’t equipped with seat belts under federal law;
  • The vehicle or passenger must make frequent stops for delivery;
  • Occupants are in a mobile home, other than drivers and front seat passengers.

Failure of a rear seat passenger to not wear a seat belt is not a primary offense, meaning officers can’t stop a vehicle solely for this purpose.

The law also stipulates one other important fact: Failure to wear a seat belt isn’t admissible in a criminal or civil action. This is a provision written in the law to expressly counter the so-called “seat belt defense” in personal injury action. North Carolina is one of 31 states to expressly bar this defense.

The seat belt defense allows a defendant in a car accident lawsuit to limit damages by asserting the victim’s injuries would not have been as severe had he or she been wearing a seat belt as required by law.

So while it’s always a good idea to buckle up, one’s failure to do so can’t be used against them in a personal injury action.

In many cities, such as New York City, those in the back of livery vehicles and taxi cabs aren’t required to wear seat belts. But again, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Consider the recent death earlier this year of veteran CBS News Correspondent Bob Simon. He was killed after being thrown from the back seat of his taxi when it was struck by another vehicle and then slammed into the median.

While recent updated technology features in passenger vehicles have focused on the safety of those in the front, those in the back should be reminded they are still vulnerable.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Deaths of Math Genius John F. Nash Jr. and Wife Show Need to Use Seatbelts in Back, Experts Say, May 25, 2015, By Winnie Hu, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
Mother and Daughter Killed in North Carolina Truck Accident, May 20, 2015, Asheville Car Accident Lawyer Blog

Contact Information