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Not wearing a seat belt could be a primary offense: Senate committee takes up issue during session

January 31, 2010

Not wearing a seat belt could be a primary offense: Senate committee takes up issue during session

A bill to make failure to wear seat belts a primary offense — one you can get pulled over for — cleared its first hurdle Tuesday.

The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill and sent it on to the Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 130 would change state code to remove the provision that makes driving or riding without a seat belt a secondary offense — one you can be cited for after you’re pulled over for another offense.

The bill reduces the fine from not more than $25 to a flat $15.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, DKanawha, is the bill’s primary sponsor, and said he’s tried to get it passed for several years.

“In my view,” he said, “it will save a lot of lives, it will prevent a lot of injuries and it will save a lot of money.” He said it could also bring in federal grant money available to states with primary seat-belt laws. In the last couple of years, he said, it could have brought in an additional $1 million to $2 million.Committee Chair John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the bill is more of a publicawareness bill than a lawenforcement bill — it encourages people to wear seat belts and maintain control of their vehicles. It passed overwhelmingly by voice vote.

Asked why the bill failed in previous years, Palumbo said some people cite personal liberty, the ” Mountaineers are always free mentality.” Sen. Clark Barnes, RKanawha, voted against the bill in committee.”It’s certainly an issue of safety,” he said, “but it’s personal safety.” It’s different from driving under the influence of alcohol, texting or using a cell phone while driving. “It has to do with personal choice.

“I’m very concerned,” he said, “that over-regulation crosses the line between our constitutional rights and government regulation.” He noted that grant money isn’t free money.

“Federal grant money is all paid for by our children and grandchildren. It’s not necessarily a gift to us, but a bill to our children.” The House of Delegates has a similar bill, HB 4005, sitting in its Roads and Transportation Committee. The major difference is the fine — 4005 makes it a flat $25.

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