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Editorial: Tougher law on use of seat belts could save lives

Mar. 15, 2013 @ 11:57 PM

Could this be the year that West Virginia joins the majority of states that have tougher seat belt laws? Let's hope so.

Currently, failure to wear a seat belt is a secondary offense in the Mountain State. That means a driver can only be ticketed if first pulled over for another violation.

But once again, proponents of making failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense are trying to change that. House Bill 2108 would do that, meaning a motorist who doesn't have his or her seat belt on can be pulled over and ticketed for that offense alone.

By a 13-11 vote on Tuesday, the state's House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation for consideration by the full House. Backers of the bill said advancing the bill to a vote by the full House marks the proposal's best chance in several years to become law, because previous proposals have passed the Senate only to die in the House.

It's not that the bill makes failure to wear a seat belt a costly offense. The proposed penalty is only a $25 fine, and no points would be assessed against the motorist's driving record. But Bob Tipton, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Program, said having a primary seat belt law would likely boost West Virginia's current seat belt usage rate of 85 percent by another 6 to 7 percent, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates.

His key point: That kind of increase would translate into about 14 lives saved annually.

Thirty-four states already have seen the wisdom of enacting primary seat belt laws. As noted by Tipton, the reason is simple. Various health and safety agencies insist that buckling up is the most effective way to prevent deaths and injuries on the nation's highways.

West Virginia's lawmakers should see that the Mountain State joins this life-saving movement by approving the tougher seat belt law.

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