Advocates urge stricter seatbelt laws

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(Host) Backers of a mandatory seatbelt law are planning to ask the Legislature to add new enforcement provisions to the state’s existing law. The proposal faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When the General Assembly returns to Montpelier on Wednesday, lawmakers will be dealing with a host of issues, including Act 60 reform, economic development initiatives and efforts to control health care costs. There will also be an effort to change the enforcement conditions of the state’s seatbelt law.

Currently, all drivers are required to wear seatbelts but the law has what is known as a “secondary” enforcement provision. That means that a driver cannot be stopped solely for a violation of the seatbelt law. A police officer must cite the driver for another motor vehicle infraction before imposing penalties for violations of the seatbelt law.

Seatbelt advocates believe usage would increase significantly in Vermont if lawmakers adopted a primary enforcement law and they hope to convince the Legislature to consider this approach. Chuck Satterfield is the public information specialist at the Governor’s Highway Safety Committee:

(Satterfield) “It’s a proven fact that seatbelts save lives. If we were to sit here and announce we had a cure for cancer, people would be lining up at our door. Well, we have a cure for keeping people alive in car crashes. We know that at least 50% of the people who die in a car crash who are unbelted would be alive today. We’re mystified why this is such a difficult thing to pass in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Transportation Committee has rejected previous efforts to impose a primary enforcement seatbelt law. Committee Chairman Dick Mazza says he’s willing to look at the issue this winter but Mazza also thinks the current law is working pretty well:

(Mazza) “I think it’s working fine presently. I think a lot of the folks, the young folks certainly, are taught in schools and I think it’s working. Every youth or young person who gets in a car always reminds their parents to buckle up. So I think it’s happening. So I think it’s working well. It took a few years to happen and whether mandatory would increase that usage, someone would have to prove that to me.”

(Kinzel) It’s expected that the Senate Transportation Committee will hold hearings on this issue later this month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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