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Seat-belt laws clear Senate

RICHMOND – The Senate on Wednesday passed two bills aimed at increasing seat-belt use in Virginia.

The first proposal, Senate Bill 219, requires anyone under 19 sitting in the backseat of a vehicle to wear a seat belt. It passed 39-1, with Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield, casting the only no vote.

The second measure, SB 229, requires everyone in the car to wear a seat belt, regardless of where they sit. The Senate voted 30-10 to pass the bill.

Of the 22 Democrats in the Senate, 20 voted for SB 229 and two (John C. Miller of Newport News and R. Edward Houck of Spotsylvania) voted against it. Of the 18 Republicans in the Senate, 10 — including Sen. Frederick M. Quayle (Suffolk) voted for the bill and eight voted against it.

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, introduced SB 219 because of a concerned Herndon teacher. “She came to me distressed over our children dying in the backseat without a seat belt,” Howell said.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,500 teenagers age 15-19 died in car accidents, and more than 350,000 were treated for injuries from such accidents.

Sen. George Baker, D-Alexandria, introduced SB 229 to encourage all passengers in a car to wear a seat belt.

“Half of people in the backseat wear their seat belts in the backseat, while in the front where it is required, 80 percent do,” Baker said.

Both bills now go to the House of Delegates.

Under Virginia law, failing to wear a seat belt is a secondary violation: Police cannot ticket you unless you have been pulled over for another violation.

Three bills were filed in the General Assembly this session to make seat-belt violations a primary offense. They are:

SB 518, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg. It “allows for primary enforcement of safety belt requirements when violations are observed by law-enforcement officers at traffic safety checkpoints.” The Senate voted 26-14 for the bill last week.

SB 9, sponsored by Sen. Harry B. Blevins, R-Chesapeake. It would make any failure to wear a seat belt a primary traffic offense. That bill also passed by a 26-14 vote in the Senate last week.

House Bill 901, sponsored by Delegate William Barlow, D-Smithfield. It was the House companion to Blevins’ bill. Last week, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety recommended killing the proposal.

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Here is how each senator voted on “SB 229 Safety belts; use required for all occupants of a motor vehicle.” You might want to highlight the your local senators.

Floor: 02/03/10 Senate: Passed Senate (30-Y 10-N)

YEAS–Barker, Blevins, Colgan, Deeds, Edwards, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, McWaters, Miller, Y.B., Norment, Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Quayle, Reynolds, Saslaw, Smith, Stosch, Stuart, Ticer, Vogel, Wagner, Watkins, Whipple–30.

NAYS–Hanger, Houck, Hurt, Martin, McDougle, Miller, J.C., Newman, Obenshain, Ruff, Wampler–10.

This story is for subscribers to VCU’s Capital News Service. If you have questions or comments, contact Jeff South at jcsouth@vcu.edu or 804-827-0253 or your CNS reporter.