Need tougher seat-belt law

Published 9:57 am Saturday, June 25, 2011

Results of a recent campaign to enforce Virginia’s seat-belt laws point up the need for Virginia’s legislature to readdress those laws with an eye toward making it easier for police to ticket drivers and their passengers who do not wear the restraints.

Front-seat passengers in Virginia are required to wear their seat belts. But the commonwealth’s law is considered a secondary one, meaning that police must observe some other infraction before they can cite the driver for not following the law. In practice, this means that many people who scoff at wearing the restraints are able to pass right on by police officers without worry of being ticketed.

We note that during a recent Click It or Ticket seat-belt enforcement campaign in neighboring Suffolk, police officers issued 288 citations for failing to wear seat belts. Clearly, there are plenty of people who have yet to get the message that seat-belt use saves lives. Even more telling, however, were the results of a set of observation surveys.

Before launching the campaign, police officers observed traffic at the city’s busiest intersection, at the corner of Main Street and Constance Road. They found that only about 78 percent of drivers passing through were using their seat belts. At the end of the campaign, however — after people had a chance to see on television and in the newspaper that police had stepped up their enforcement efforts and drivers were getting ticketed for ignoring the restraint law — a similar survey found that seat belt use had risen by 11 percent.

The results of the survey demonstrate that the fear of receiving a ticket contributes to good driver behavior. If police were able to issue tickets anytime they saw drivers without seat belts, it stands to reason that more drivers would wear them — even if only because they feared being ticketed — and the streets would be safer for everyone.