Strengthen seat-belt law

Published 8:02 am Saturday, January 24, 2009

We’re all for personal freedom, which is one of the bedrock principles of this great country.

That doesn’t mean that all laws designed to discourage reckless behavior are unnecessary infringements on that freedom.

Take seat-belt laws, for example. Many purists say buckling up should be a personal choice rather than a government mandate, despite endless studies showing how the simple act of fastening a seat belt saves lives.

Virginia is one of 23 states where failure to wear a seat belt is a secondary offense, meaning an officer cannot issue a ticket for it unless they have “cause to stop or arrest the driver.”

State Delegate William Barlow, D-Smithfield, wants to change that. House Bill 2253, sponsored by Barlow, would make not wearing your seat belt a primary offense in the commonwealth.

Barlow has heard the argument about individual choice, but he believes the benefits to society outweigh any inconveniences for an individual.

“Every time someone gets hurt or killed for failing to wear a seat belt, it hurts all of us because of health-care costs,” Barlow told Capital News Service.

Barlow is not alone in his quest to make more Virginians buckle up.

Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, D-Mount Vernon, has filed similar legislation, House Bill 2339. Both Barlow’s and Amundson’s bills have been referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

Two bills in the Senate sought to make failure to use a seat belt a primary offense. They were folded into one bill, which the Senate Transportation Committee defeated Thursday on a 6-5 vote.

Barlow is confident his bill will pass because in 2007, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing cameras to catch drivers running red lights. The red-light proposal faced some of the same “Big Brother” complaints as the seat-belt legislation.

“I don’t think it’s a major infringement on their freedom,” he said. “Maybe they want to be free to go through the windshield.”

The bottom line is that a primary seat-belt law saves lives. Virginia’s General Assembly should pass it.