It's an effort that even the bill's sponsor acknowledges is poor timing. Just two days after a 75-vehicle pileup injured at least 17 people in the state, lawmakers in Maine are considering legislation that would allow adults to opt out of wearing seat belts. Sen. Eric Brakey told lawmakers on Friday that it's too bad they're considering his bill so close to Wednesday's crash on Interstate 95, which is thought to be the largest in Maine history but had no fatalities. "It's very unfortunate timing that we're discussing this particular legislation two days after the 75-car pileup that took place on I-95," Brakey says. The Republican from Auburn acknowledged that people should wear seat belts and said he hopes the accident serves as a reminder of the importance to do so.
But said he believes the mandate infringes on people's freedom to make personal decisions. "Government exists to protect us from each other, not to protect us from ourselves," Brakey told the Transportation Committee, which also examined measures Friday that seek to crack down on people who talk on their cellphone while driving. Opponents of the seat belt repeal—including the Maine Sheriffs' Association, Maine Chiefs of Police Association, the Maine Medical Association, and several trauma surgeons—argued that repealing the law would be a dangerous move that would inevitably lead to more highway deaths. "We're asking people to swap an immediate lethal risk for the threat of a small fine," says a surgeon. "If that helps keep a few dozen per year out of my trauma room, I'll take the governance." (Read more Maine stories.)