JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation that would toughen Missouri’s seat belt law easily passed the Senate on Wednesday.
The legislation would let law enforcement officers stop motorists solely for not wearing seat belts. Currently, people traveling in Missouri can be cited for not wearing a seat belt only if they are first stopped for another reason.
The 29-1 Senate vote sends the bill to the House.
Toughening the law is an idea that has been around for years, but rural interests have fought the measure. This year, it appears to have more momentum.
Jeffrey Runge, head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, told lawmakers earlier this year that a tougher seat belt law would save 90 lives and prevent more than 1,000 serious injuries each year.
Also, he said the federal government plans to offer a $17 million one-time incentive to states that pass a primary seat belt law.
Michael Right, who lobbies for AAA Missouri, also said it is a simple change that could save dozens of lives.
“I don’t know that we could do that by spending hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “The cost of doing this is nothing, frankly, other than a few moments’ time for the motoring public.”
Right said the tougher law would especially help younger and rural drivers, who he said are less likely to use seat belts.
“A lot of the concern comes from rural legislators. In actual fact, the major beneficiaries of passage of a primary seat belt law are going to be people who drive on rural roads,” Right said.
Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, was among several rural legislators voting for the bill — but not without reservations.
“It’s a point of contention, especially in rural areas,” Cauthorn said. “We don’t like to be told what to do.”
The legislation by Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, also requires all children under 4 years old to ride in child safety seats and those ages 4 and 5 to be in booster seats. Older children would simply have to wear seat belts.
Currently, children ages 4 to 16 must be belted, and younger children must be in child safety seats.