Opinions remain divided on primary seat belt laws

Whether we realize it or not, most of us follow a routine every time we get behind the wheel of our vehicles and move the shifter from park to drive. For example, many of us will check the mirrors, adjust the seat, set the climate, sync electronic devices and, of course, buckle seat belts.

Indeed, it would appear that the majority of us are now making seat belt use part of our routines, as a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that close to 90 percent of drivers were buckling up in 2016.

This is a welcome development when you consider that federal statistics also reveal that seat belts saved the lives of nearly 14,000 people in 2015 alone.

Questions have been raised, however, as to whether primary seat belt laws -- otherwise known as "click it or ticket" laws -- are the reason for this encouraging trend.

What are primary seat belt laws?  

Primary seat belt laws essentially enable law enforcement to pull over and ticket motorists for the sole offense of not wearing a seat belt. This differs from secondary seat belt laws, which provide that motorists can only be ticketed for not wearing seat belts if pulled over for some other primary offense like speeding or running a red light.

Currently 34 states have primary seat belt laws, 15 have secondary seat belts and one has no law requiring seat belt use by adults (New Hampshire). Here in Georgia, we have a primary seat belt law.

Are primary seat belt laws the reason for the high rates of seat belt use?

While some studies have recently suggested otherwise, the majority opinion is that primary seat belt laws are indeed behind the spike in seat belt compliance. Indeed, the NHTSA determined that seat belt compliance in the states with primary enforcement laws was 92 percent in 2016 versus 83 percent in those states with secondary or no enforcement laws.

Despite figures like these, lawmakers who are now advancing legislation to enact primary seat belt laws in their states -- Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Vermont -- have encountered considerable opposition.

What are the arguments against primary seat belt laws?

Critics of the primary seat belt laws argue that they represent yet another level of government interference in everyday decision-making. More significantly, they argue that they can lead to racial profiling by law enforcement.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the year ahead. Stay tuned for developments …

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a car crash caused by the reckless actions of another, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options for pursuing justice.  

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