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Frustration Over Corzine Not Buckling Up

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

By TOM HESTER Jr., Associated Press Writer

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TRENTON, N.J. — 

Last year, New Jersey law officers ticketed 271,182 people for not wearing seat belts. This year, one seat-belt violator stands out: Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who was critically injured in an automobile accident last week.

David Wald, spokesman for state Attorney General Stuart Rabner, wouldn't say why state police assigned to protect the governor didn't insist Corzine obey the seat belt law.

"As always, we urge all drivers and passengers to wear seat belts," Wald said.

Corzine, 60, broke multiple bones in the wreck and remains hospitalized in intensive care, breathing with the help of a respirator. He remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday.

There was another revelation Tuesday that is likely to add to talk about the governor's accident _ Corzine's SUV was going 91 mph in a 65 mph zone just before the crash, according to state police.

Many people are amazed Corzine didn't follow the law and buckle up.

"With all due respect to the governor and with complete compassion in mind for the injuries he sustained, he has set a poor example," said David Weinstein, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman.

Tom Shea, Corzine's chief of staff, has said the governor should be ticketed if he wasn't buckled up.

He's not the only one who thinks so.

Tricia Tim, a 35-year-old medical assistant who was in Newark traffic court to settle a speeding ticket Tuesday, said she was disappointed in her governor.

"He's a governor," Tim said. "He should have been showing us an example. I wear my seat belt all the time."

The governor, in fact, has been a proponent of seat belt usage.

As a U.S. senator in 2001, Corzine proposed having the federal government direct states to pass laws requiring children under age 16 wear seat belts.

New Jersey law requires drivers and front seat passengers to wear seat belts. Violators face a $46 fine.

State police said Trooper Robert Rasinski, Corzine's driver, was wearing a seat belt and received minor injuries in the wreck, while Corzine aide Samantha Gordon was riding in the back seat without a seat belt and received minor injuries.

The accident report notes only Corzine was "thrown within the vehicle during the impact."

Chris Lamm, who waited in line in Newark to pay a ticket for an improper turn, said he was surprised Corzine wasn't strapped in considering he rides with a state trooper.

"I hope he's learned something from this ordeal," said Lamm, a 24-year-old transportation planner from Montclair.

According to federal statistics, New Jersey has one of the highest rates in the nation for seat belt usage, at 90 percent in 2006. The national average is 81 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

New Jersey state and local police are about to begin a "Click It or Ticket" campaign to encourage more seat belt use. The campaign was planned before Corzine's accident.

Lisa Lewis, founder of the Partnership for Safe Driving, questioned whether a seat belt would have helped Corzine, because his vehicle was traveling so fast.

"Seat belts are not designed to protect us in crashes at very high speeds," Lewis said.

Some people are hopeful Corzine _ once he recovers from injuries that include a broken leg, ribs, collarbone and sternum _ can turn his accident into a message about the importance of using seat belts.

"He could be the poster child to make people listen, to show that traffic crashes and the injuries you get in them if you're not wearing your seat belt can hit anyone," Weinstein said.

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Associated Press writer Janet Frankston Lorin in Newark contributed to this story.

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