Tougher seat belt law moves forward

Between 2008 to 2012, Kansas City, Missouri has had 189 unseat belted fatalities, which account for 65% of the persons killed in a car, truck, or SUV

The city council public safety committee today passed a seatbelt law that for the first time allows police to ticket drivers solely for not wearing seat belts.

The law also would increase the fine for not wearing one by five times – from $10 to $50.

The so-called primary seatbelt law goes to the city council next week for final approval and sends a message to state lawmakers who have refused to pass it, councilmembers said.

Because Missouri is not among states with such laws, many cities in the state – most in the St. Louis area – have passed them on their own.

“I think we’re going to see other cities in the metro area follow (with such laws),” said councilman John Sharp, just as in the St. Louis area.

Councilman Scott Wagner said, “I think if Kansas City and others on this side of the state do it, it increases the pressure on Jefferson City.”

Missouri law allows a seat belt ticket only if the officer stops the driver for another violation. More states, 32 so far, are going to primary seat belt laws because statistics show they save lives.

The states with those laws have 90 percent seat-belt usage compared to 78 percent in states without it, police report. Missouri’s usage is 77 percent and in Kansas City it is only 70 percent.

Also in the police report:

In Kansas City, drivers in crashes from 2008 to 2010 had a I in 29.9 chance of being killed if not wearing a seatbelt, which dropped to 1 in 1,376 chance if they were wearing it.

Between 2008 and 2012, the city had 189 unbelted fatalities, or 65 percent of those killed in car, truck or SUV crashes.  An increase of 12 percent in seatbelt use could have saved 43 lives in the city over the last five years.

Councilman Scott Taylor said, the need is “so clear cut for an ordinance – it’s a no brainer.”

As for increasing the fine, it has been the same since 1967 and a federal study showed that an increase from $25 to $60 alone increased seat belt use by 3 to 4 percentage points.

The current law also is a problem, the city prosecutor said, because if police stop a person just for not wearing a seatbelt they can’t charge him after seeing other crimes, such as drunk driving or drugs.

Sharp said of the current seat belt law, “It was so riddled with loopholes it was almost impossible to enforce.”

And that $10 fine doesn’t scare anyone.

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