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Seat belt bill encourages Missouri drivers to buckle up

April 27, 2005
By: Jeana Bruce
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Missouri police officers would be able to stop and ticket a driver solely because of an unbuckled seatbelt under a bill working its way through the legislature.

The law would require that police officers be able to see that the belt was unbuckled.

While critics say the law would be a threat to civil liberties, by giving police officers too much power, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jon Dolan, R-St. Charles, said that it was about reducing deaths and serious injuries.

"Nowhere else can I save 90 lives, and not, in my mind, affect individual rights and liberties," said Rep. Jon Dolan, R-St. Charles, who proposed the Senate bill. " This is to change the habits and the practices and the nature of people."

If stopped, according to the Senate bill, drivers would face a $15 fine.

"I have the most miniscule fine in the history of mankind and the history of this nation in here. Because that's the kind of guy I am," said Dolan in a House committee meeting.

The law, which has already passed the Senate, would also come with a reward for the state. A $17 million federal incentive will be offered to states that switch to this seat belt law pending approval by federal government. The Missouri Department of Transportation would receive the money.

Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said it wasn't about the money during a House committee meeting.

"From an individual standpoint, wearing a seatbelt means that if you are involved in a crash, you have a one in 1,109 chance of dying in that crash," he said. "If you are not wearing a seat belt, the odds of dying in that crash is one in 39."

But Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, said that legislators need to let people make their own decisions even if those decisions might put them in danger.

"My fundamental belief is that we can't legislate over ignorance," Shoemyer said, "People do not need us in Jeff City encroaching on their personal freedoms."

Shoemyer said that if the bill did come up in the House, he planned to propose an amendment that would make primary enforcement only apply to those who are under 18 or 21.

"I have no problem telling our kids what to do, I think it is important to get them into good habits," Shoemyer said.

Missouri teen belt usage is considerably lower than the overall numbers.

According to Tiffiny Strever, an emergency room nurse and member of the Midwest Trauma Society, the teen average is around 41 percent.

The overall belt usage percentage for Missouri was almost 73 percent in 2003, but the national average was almost 80 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

In 10 years, 13 states have passed similar seat belt laws, according to the Institute of Public Policy at MU. The average increase in belt usage was 20 percent.