Florida primary seat-belt bill dies; state will lose federal money

| 5/9/2008

A legislative effort in Florida to make failure to buckle up a primary offense has once again failed. As a result, the state’s federal funding is expected to take a hit.

Sponsored by Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, the bill was awaiting consideration on the House floor when lawmakers wrapped up the regular session. It had yet to be considered in the Senate.

The measure – HB11 – sought to permit police to pull over drivers in the state for not wearing their seat belts. Existing state law allows police to ticket drivers for not buckling up only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding or a bad taillight.

The effort to make a seat belt violation a primary offense marks the latest failure in several attempts to get stricter enforcement through the statehouse. The push had been led by former Democratic state Rep. Irv Slosberg of Boca Raton, whose daughter Dori was killed in a 1996 crash when she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Slosberg left the Legislature after the 2006 session, and Glorioso picked up the banner for primary seat-belt enforcement during the 2007 session.

Despite the new sponsorship, the effort has continued to run into opposition from those warning of Big Brother-style government intrusion or racial profiling.

Supporters say saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

Congress approved legislation in 2005 that gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules or achieves a belt usage rate of 85 percent one-time federal grant money for roads. States have until Dec. 31, 2008, to approve the legislation or lose the funding. Florida will miss out on a one-time federal payment of about $35 million, unless lawmakers call a special session later this year and approve a primary seatbelt law, which is unlikely.

Florida is one of 23 states without a primary seat-belt law. Twenty-six states allow police to pull over drivers solely for not wearing their seat belts. New Hampshire is the only state without a mandatory seat-belt law of any kind.

Another bill in Florida has died that also was intended to increase safety on the state’s highways. The measure – HB403 – sought to require guardrails, retention cables or other barriers to be installed to separate roadways from canals or bodies of water.

The Florida Department of Transportation would have been required to install and maintain the protection system.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor