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Bill would toughen seat-belt law

RICHMOND — Failing to wear a seat belt would be a primary offense in Virginia under a bill being sponsored by Delegate William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield.

It’s now a secondary offense: Police may cite you for a seat-belt violation only if they see you committing another offense, such as speeding or running a red light.

House Bill 901, which is before the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety, would change that. It “makes nonuse of motor vehicle safety belts a primary offense.”

“A lot of people have health problems because of car accidents. It is a major health concern,” Barlow said. “If people were wearing a seat belt, it would cut down on those injuries.”

People using seat belts properly are 40 percent less likely to be fatally injured during a crash, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Senate is considering a proposal similar to Barlow’s. It is Senate Bill 9, introduced by Sen. Harry B. Blevins, R-Chesapeake.

On Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted 10-4 in favor of SB 9. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Of all accident fatalities, 60 percent involve people not wearing seat belts.

About 80 percent of Virginians do wear seat belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Barlow would like to see a higher compliance rate.

He said that by mandating seat belts, the General Assembly would not only prevent injuries but also save money.

“One of the reasons we’re up here is to save taxpayer money,” Barlow said. “By doing it, we are saving a great deal of money to the taxpayers and to those who pay insurance premiums.”

Most states have primary seat-belt laws, including Maryland and North Carolina, as well as the District of Columbia, according to Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which advocates traffic safety.

“For me, it is a bill that should be passed in this session,” Barlow said. “It does not cost any money and saves citizens a lot of money because of injury and death.”