Bill would mandate stricter seat belt law

Not wearing seat belts could result in traffic stops.
Monday, April 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:38 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

With the Missouri Senate giving initial approval of an amendment to a seat belt bill last week, there appear to be several ways the state could enact a primary seat belt law.

Rep. Robert Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, and Sen. Jon Dolan,

R-Lake St. Louis, have each sponsored legislation that would make it possible for police to pull motorists over simply for not wearing seat belts if it is plainly visible.

The bill

Dolan amended Senate Bill 710, which originally revised regulations for child-safety restraints, to include several bills dealing with driving safety, including a primary seat belt bill that he sponsored. The bill as amended should be voted on this week and is likely to move on to the House, Dolan said.

At the moment, Schaaf’s bill is being held up in the House Transportation Committee and probably will not be sent to the floor for a vote, committee chairman Larry Crawford,

R-Centertown, said.

“I thought that the idea should be debated, and that’s why I had a hearing on it,” Crawford said. “But it has little chance of passing in committee, so I personally don’t think we should spend much time on it.”

However, Schaaf might try to get the law passed as an amendment to another bill as Dolan has done.

“This would have the advantage that representatives could vote for the bill on a voice vote and not go on record as supporting the seat belt bill,” Schaaf said.

The amendment would be attached to “any bill that it might fit,” Schaaf said.

Revised seat belt law

During a House Transportation Committee hearing in February, Jeffrey Runge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 89 lives could be saved in the first year of the measure’s implementation.

A recent study by the National Safety Council also showed that a revised seat belt law could save Missouri $103 million in Medicare costs over the next 10 years.

“Driving is a privilege, not a right, and while it is important that we protect freedom, we also have a responsibility to protect the public,” Schaaf said.

Missouri has a secondary seat belt law, meaning motorists can be fined $10 for not wearing seat belts if they are pulled over for another offense.

The proposed bills would create a primary seat belt law and would increase the fine to $15 in the Senate bill or $25 in the House bill.

“What it comes down to is whether you believe in the seat belt law in the first place,” said Dan Viets, a local lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

When the Missouri legislature passed the current seat belt law in the 1980s, many people worried that making it a crime to not buckle up at all was a violation of their civil rights.

“It was debated for years and years, and the compromise was that police couldn’t pull someone over just because someone

wasn’t wearing a seat belt,” Viets said. “(Changing the law now) violates the compromise that was reached then.”

Viets compared mandatory seat belt laws to requiring people to diet to combat obesity.

“I always wear my seat belt. I think it’s stupid not to, but people have the right to be stupid,” Viets said.

Opponents of the bills also say the law would be a waste of time for police and the courts, Crawford said. But Officer Alan Hulett is doubtful the law would affect the Columbia Police Department traffic unit’s workload.

“I don’t see that it would be any more work. We’re still out there stopping cars. Some guys might be stopping more cars,” Hulett said, adding that they wouldn’t really be doing anything different.

Schaaf said: “I intend to keep bringing it forward as long as I’m in the legislature until it passes because it’s the right thing to do.”

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