W.Va. Senate passes seat belt bill
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate passed the seat belt bill Wednesday, 24-10, sending the legislation that makes failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his signature.
The bill means West Virginia would join the more than 30 other states that have elevated seat belt laws. It goes into effect on Sept. 1.
Similar bills have been passed in the Senate in recent years, only to die in the House. This time, though, it was the House that led the charge.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, said it is important to remember that wearing a seat belt is already a law in West Virginia. But right now, it is a secondary offense, which means a person can only be cited for it after being pulled over for another reason.
“People will make their own choices,” Jenkins said, noting that some folks won’t wear a seat belt no matter what the law states.
Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director Bob Tipton said last month in a House Judiciary meeting there are numerous reasons for adopting the legislation. West Virginia’s seat-belt use stood at 85 percent last year, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates usage would increase another 6 to 7 percent if the state adopted a primary seat-belt law, he said. That equates to about 14 lives saved annually, he added.
Of the 339 people killed in vehicle accidents last year in West Virginia, about 100 people were ejected from their vehicles, Tipton said. Many of those fatalities could have been prevented if the passengers were restrained in their vehicle, he said.
The state also would receive an additional $1.2 million in federal funding that could be used for driving safety programs if it had a primary seat-belt law, Tipton said.
Jenkins said insurance rates should drop slightly throughout the state because wearing seat belts would become a primary offense.
But his main concern was whether this would distract law enforcement from fighting crime. And Jenkins said he was told by law enforcement it would not.
He said they informed him that the hope is more people wearing seat belts will help decrease the number of fatal auto accidents in the state each year.
Those who do get a ticket will only be fined $25. The bill prohibits any additional fees or court costs. The violation also will not result in points going on the driver’s record with the Division of Motor Vehicles.
The bill could, however, limit how much an insurance company pays in medical damages to a person whose injuries were worsened because he or she was not wearing a seat belt. That part would be decided in a court of law.
The new law applies to all passenger vehicles manufactured after Jan. 1, 1967.
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