West Virginia state legislators have a chance to save lives by enacting a bill to make failure to use a seatbelt a primary offense.
The bill has already cleared the House Judiciary Committee in Charleston, albeit by a narrow 13-11 vote.
Proponents estimate that by increasing the penalty for not using a seatbelt, up to 7 percent more drivers will strap on the belts rather than risk a ticket. Currently, a driver can only be cited for not wearing a seatbelt if they’re pulled over for another violation first. The bill now under consideration sets a $25 penalty.
The National Safety Council reports that seat belt use has been increasing and averages 88 percent nationally. Nevertheless, it says, there are still groups less likely to wear seat belts, including teens, commercial drivers, males in rural areas, pick-up truck drivers, people driving at night, and people who have been drinking.
There is no doubt that seatbelts save lives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said wearing a seatbelt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by more than 50 percent. It estimates that 75,000 lives were saved from 2004 to 2008.
We urge the full West Virginia legislature to give its approval to stiffen penalties for drivings not wearing a seatbelt. A 7 percent increase in the number of people who use seatbelts is bound to translate to fewer injuries — and deaths.