JEFFERSON CITY — Police could stop motorists solely for not wearing seat belts, and children younger than 6 would have to ride in safety seats, under legislation given initial Senate approval Wednesday.
The bill received first-round approval on a voice vote and needs a second vote to advance to the House.
Supporters said the moves would promote safety and help the state secure more federal money. Opponents said the proposed restrictions would violate personal freedom.
Missouri is one of 29 states that bar police from stopping motorists simply for failing to buckle up. Instead, an officer must stop the motorist for another reason and only then may cite the person for noncompliance with the seat belt law.
The bill would allow officers to stop an unbelted motorist “if the violation is clearly visible to the officer without stopping the vehicle.”
Financial and safety benefits
Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, said the move would save the state $10 million a year in Medicaid costs and earn the state up to $18 million from the federal government. Dolan said the Bush administration was offering a one-time incentive to states to put “primary seat belt enforcement” into law.
Officials of the National Transportation Safety Board testified for the bill, saying 64 percent of the 8,847 people killed in Missouri traffic accidents from 1994 to 2002 did not wear seat belts. Seat belts are between 44 percent and 73 percent effective in preventing fatalities, the board said.
Missouri law requires drivers, front-seat passengers and children younger than 16 to wear seat belts or safety restraints. The law specifically requires that children younger than 4 ride in a child restraint system.
The bill would require child restraint systems for a child of any age who weighs less than 40 pounds. In addition, children who are 4 or 5 or who weigh 40 to 60 pounds would have to sit in a child restraint system or use a booster seat.
“The extra step of a booster seat is necessary in order to properly protect children,” said Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis.
Adults driving vehicles in which children are not properly restrained would face a $25 fine, under the bill, but no points would be assessed against their driver’s licenses.