Tougher seat belt regulation proposed in House

Drivers could be pulled over primarily for not buckling up.

With the countless warnings for Missourians to arrive alive by wearing seat belts, some representatives believe the current practice of roadside reminders simply isn't enough.

After other failed attempts, a primary seat belt law is making its way through the Missouri House.

"It's all about saving lives," said Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-Olivette, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. "It aims to make people follow the law, and our roads need all the help they can get."

The bipartisan team of Zimmerman and Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City and 58 other representatives from both parties sponsored the bill, which passed the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday and has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

"The idea is that everyone should wear a seat belt," Deeken said. "In the past year, about 90 lives and 1,000 injuries might have been prevented if the driver and passengers had just worn their seat belts."

The bill would allow law enforcement officers the ability to pull over and ticket drivers because the driver or passenger wasn't wearing their seat belt.

Under Missouri law, an officer can only ticket for the lack of seat belt if the driver has already committed a traffic violation.

Deeken said it is an inefficient practice.

"It just doesn't make sense to be punished twice just to get one thing done," he said.

Zimmerman said the primary seat belt law would be beneficial because of its ability to be carried out easily.

"The current law is hard to enforce, and the federal government feels the same way," he said.

If the bill passes into law, the state would receive funds from the federal government. To qualify for this money, the bill would have to become law by June 30, and some tickets for infringement must be issued by Sept. 30, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"It's not moving through really easily, but it's moving," Deeken said about the bill. "This is the last year that the state will be able to get federal money that can be used for additional highway safety. About 16.2 million dollars is out there for us if we pass the primary seat belt law."

Opposition to the bill has been growing since its introduction in February. Many feel the potential law would allot excessive power to police officers and infringe on the rights of the driver.

"The police, in my opinion, have a lot of reasons to stop a car," said criminal defense attorney Tim Cisar, former president of Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "If they are allowed to stop you for the act of not wearing your seat belt, whether it is criminal or not, then they get to start investigating you for any and all other criminal activity."

Deeken said the state government would be working within its rights to enforce the wearing of seat belts.

Regardless of the reasoning behind primary seat belt laws, Cisar said he doesn't see why the current law has to change.

"The bottom line is that the state is chipping away at the rock of our rights, and, trusts me, it's happening every other day of the week. This is just one more chip off the old ice block that's already melting," Cisar said.

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