We told you so!
"Contributory negligence" has always been the end-game for the insurance lobby in the mandatory seat
belt law issue; that and, in Massachusetts, the "insurance surcharge."
I recognized this back in 1986, during the first MSBL repeal campaign: it had been happening in courts
around the country in states that had adopted the law.
Which was precisely why I proposed "The Buckle-Up Bonus." It actually inspired our current Voluntary
Tax Check-Off: Win, then offer the opposition back what they professed to want all
along; graciously provide the opportunity for everyone to be a winner; solve their problem a better way; if nothing else,
call their bluff and test their sincerity.
The Buckle-Up Bonus gave them back everything they claimed to want when they opposed our repeal of
the MSBL, but without the use of state force to achieve it.
The Buckle-Up Bonus was simple, yet difficult to attain. Not everyone would have even qualified -- even
if they wore a seat belt all the time. One would only have qualified after having
demonstrably saved the insurance industry money [see excerpts from 1987 news reports of the bill's hearing, below].
How could the insurance lobby have unanimously and so vehemently opposed it when receiving the
1) That a motorist first be involved in an accident;
2) That the motorist and all passengers be found to have been using their seat belts, and;
3) That insurance premium discounts would only then apply to
future premium costs?
It was never about saving money for us insured; it was always about profiting the insurance industry. They
proved it for us back then, and they proved if for us again today.
A primary-enforcement seat-belt law -- waiting for a new chance at passage in the state Legislature --
would be a boon to leading auto insurers represented by House Speaker Thomas M.
Finneran's law firm.
While current law mandates use of seat belts, it does not permit police to stop motorists on suspicion of
non-compliance as the controversial new one would.
The new measure was defeated on a tie vote two weeks ago. Finneran had scheduled the measure for
"reconsideration" -- a parliamentary maneuver allowing its revival -- today, but he
abruptly canceled the entire House session late yesterday citing the "unanticipated commitments" of some House members.
Supporters say a so-called primary enforcement law would save lives by getting more people to use seat
belts. Massachusetts has one of the worst seat belt use rates in the nation. But insurance company
advocates also admit it would save auto insurers money by allowing them to shift the blame
for injuries onto the victims.
"It's going to affect what they pay out in claims," said Richard Underwood, a lobbyist for Commerce
Commerce Insurance is one of several auto insurers represented by Finneran's firm, Finneran, Byrne and
Drechsler, which lists insurance defense work among its specialties.
With a primary-enforcement seat-belt law on the books, insurance company lawyers could argue that
victims who weren't buckled up were guilty of "contributory negligence," Underwood
"Your recovery (of money) can be reduced to the extent that you're at fault," he said.
Although Finneran founded the Dorchester law firm, he currently has an arms-length "of counsel"
arrangement with it.
"I draw no income from the firm's representation of those (insurance) interests," Finneran said. "There's
absolutely no conflict whatsoever." Finneran also said he's kept his hands
off the seat belt debate.
"I obviously haven't been twisting any arms," he said, citing the unusual tie and the fact that several of his
hand-picked chairman voted against the bill. "Every member has to make up his or her own mind."
But opponents, who see the bill as an unconstitutional expansion of police powers, accuse Finneran of
trying to schedule the revote for a day he can win.
"If (the issue) was (being dictated) by everybody's conscience, we would have had the reconsideration
vote that same day (the measure failed)," said Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston), who believes a
primary-enforcement seat-belt law will give police one more reason to stop black motorists. "He's
certainly giving an opportunity for people who weren't there to vote."
House Ways and Means Chairman John H. Rogers (D-Norwood), a key Finneran ally, was one of a
handful of members who missed the original vote. Rogers, who missed the vote to attend his
daughter's birth, had scheduled a committee meeting for this morning, which was also canceled abruptly.
The Buckle-Up Bonus
The Patriot Ledger
Thursday, March 19, 1987
'Buckle-up bonus' proposed for people using seat belts
By John Diamond
State House Bureau
BOSTON -- A leader of the successful fight to repeal the seat belt law has joined with his
former adversaries to push for insurance breaks for drivers who buckle up.
Chip Ford of Freedom First said the proposal, which he calls the "buckle-up bonus," would
reverse the decline in the use of seat belts that followed repeal of the last Nov 4.
"This will still the complaints of those who regularly use seat belts and feel it unfair that they
pay the same insurance premiums as those who don't," Ford said.
"The stick approach was tried and failed," said Ford. "I hope the committee will see the
benefit of this proposal and will provide for the carrot approach." ...
Ford's comments indicate how the debate over incentives has reshuffled alliances on the seat
belt issue. Insurance companies that had supported the seat belt law now oppose any
financial incentives for wearing seat belts....
But insurance companies yesterday said they want no part of seat belt incentive programs.
"Discounts here, discounts there, everybody wants a discount," said Thomas Whelton of the
Alliance of American Insurers....
Thursday, March 19, 1987
Commissioner, insurers urge defeat of 'seat belt discount'
By Kevin Landrigan
State House Bureau
STATE HOUSE -- Insurance Commissioner Peter Hiam and industry lobbyists yesterday
urged defeat of legislation that would offer "price discounts" to motorists for wearing seat
On the other side, however, were the two groups which battled over repeal of the seat belt
law last November.
"This bill has some strange allies, doesn't it?" remarked Chip Ford, chairman of the "Freedom
First" group which convinced voters to defeat the seat belt law....
Inta Hall, vice president of the Massachusetts Seat Belt Coalition, agreed with Ford that the
bonus program would help save lives.
"The time has come for the insurance industry to assist in managing the risks which, if left
unattended, cost insurance companies far more in the long run," Hall said.
"My proposal is simple: Offer a financial incentive to the motorists of Massachusetts to use
their seat belts. It is said that,'It is easier to pull a rope than to push it,'" Ford
Industry officials opposing the seat belt discount included Thomas Whelton of the Alliance of
American Insurers, Frank Mancini of the Independent Insurance Agents of New England
and Joseph A DiGiovanni Jr. of the American Insurance Assn.