House rejects major changes to seat belt law

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(Host) After several hours of debate, the Vermont House rejected a plan on Tuesday to give police officers additional authority to enforce the state’s seat belt law. Currently Vermont has what’s known as a secondary enforcement law. That means a police officer cannot pull a driver over solely because the individual was not wearing a seat belt. A ticket for a violation of the seat belt law can only be issued if the driver was stopped for another motor vehicle infraction.

Backers of a primary enforcement plan said their proposal would save lives and help reduce health care expenses in Vermont. Mendon Representative Harry Chen, who is an emergency room physician, urged his colleagues to support the plan:

(Chen) “I want to remind people that we’re talking about saving lives. I would suggest to you that it’s worth a lot to me not to have to tell another parent that their child is dead knowing that in my mind that is was a preventable injury. And I think how much government intrusion that life is worth. That’s the question we all have to ask ourselves when you cast your vote.”

(Host) But Northfield Representative Anne Donahue argued that that are many other steps the state could take to save lives and health care dollars:

(Donahue) “I’d like to remind the members that in terms of health care dollars, in terms of risks to others that smoking, drinking and a number of other self damaging behaviors are not things that we intrude. We don’t want to return to days of prohibition and we’re inconsistent if we’re taking away adult choice in this category, which has a far more limited impact than a number of other choices that we permit.”

(Host) The House voted to defeat the Chen amendment by a vote of 73 to 64. The chamber then gave its approval to the underlying bill which allows primary enforcement of the seat belt law for all children under 16. It’s a small expansion of current law, which currently allows police officers to stop a vehicle if they spot a violation of the seat belt law involving children under 13 years old.

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