Buckle up, no matter the law

Published 10:45 am Friday, January 26, 2018

Government shouldn’t have to legislate common sense, so the mere fact that Virginia legislators felt the need to file several bills expanding seat-belt requirements this year exposes a sad reality.

That reality includes at least 94 Virginians who may be alive today if they hadn’t died in a car crash last year because they weren’t wearing a seat belt. That’s 94 daughters and sons. It’s spouses and siblings and parents and friends. All of them gone, perhaps, because of the simple fact that they chose not to wear a seat belt that day.

Bills filed in the General Assembly this year would have required rear-seat passengers to buckle up, but it was ditched partially over concerns about who would get the ticket if they did not.

Another bill would have made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense, one for which officers can stop a vehicle.

Currently, police can only ticket front-seat passengers for not wearing seat belts, and the law dictates that a seat-belt violation can be ticketed only when the driver is pulled over for a separate traffic violation.

The penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a $25 fine. It’s hardly an incentive for folks to obey the law, even if they choose to be careless with their lives.

Back-seat passengers are three times more likely to die when unbuckled during a collision, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Teens and those driving under the influence are, unsurprisingly, some of the least likely to wear seat belts, and they also have a higher crash rate than the general population due to inebriation and inexperience, respectively.

Virginia drivers wear seat belts at a rate of only 79 percent, compared to 89 percent nationwide. Virginia is one of only 16 states where the requirement is not a primary law.

So the legislation failed this year. What to make of the fact that fewer people in Virginia follow this common-sense provision anyway?

Whether they’re doing it for comfort, to look “cool” or because they know they can flout the rule and get away with it, we hope Virginia drivers and passengers will get the message soon. If they don’t, dozens more will be dead.