Missouri Senate panel endorses bill to enact stricter seat-belt rule

| 4/4/2008

Police in Missouri would be allowed to pull over motorists who are not buckled up, under a bill awaiting consideration on the floor of the state’s Senate.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted to advance to the chamber floor the bill that would allow for primary enforcement of the state’s seat belt law. If approved there, it would move to the House.

Currently, law enforcement in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

Failure to buckle up would continue to be a $10 fine. No points would be added to driver’s licenses, and insurance companies wouldn’t be notified.

Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, the bill – SB884 – also would require passengers in the front and back seats to be belted in if their seat is equipped with the safety device.

Similar efforts have failed in the statehouse the past seven years.

Opponents historically cite personal choice and the potential for racial profiling among the concerns about the stricter enforcement effort. But opposition appears to be lessening as minority lawmakers have started to tout the safety benefits.

In addition to saving lives, supporters say the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

If approved, Missouri would be in line for a one-time $19.6 million payment from the federal government.

Federal law gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules or achieves a belt usage rate of 85 percent one-time grant money equal to 500 percent of the highway funding they received in 2003.

Missouri has a seat-belt usage rate of 75.2 percent. Officials say enacting stricter enforcement would increase safety-belt use by about 11 percent.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor