Mandatory seat-belt bill heads to South Carolina House

| Friday, February 04, 2005

The South Carolina Senate passed a tougher seat-belt bill Feb. 2 that would permit police to pull over drivers who are not wearing their seat belts.

The same legislation stalled for weeks in the Senate a year ago, and caused lawmakers to change their rules to curb filibusters.

The 32-11 vote came after hours of debate during the past week. The bill – S1 – now moves to the House, where a similar measure passed last year.

Currently, police can issue seat-belt citations to drivers older than age 17 only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation.

However, such violations are a primary offense for anyone 17 and younger who is not belted.

“The system we have now isn’t working,” the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, recently told The State newspaper. “This bill will save lives and money.”

Under the proposal, drivers found in violation would be fined $25. No points would be assessed against their licenses.

Ryberg, the bill’s lead sponsor and Senate Transportation Committee chairman, said it also would forbid police from searching a vehicle or its occupants if a vehicle is pulled over solely for a seat-belt violation.

While supporters of a primary seat-belt law sometimes point to federal money the state would lose for failing to scrap its secondary law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says no direct grant funds are doled out for having a primary law.

However, a proposal before Congress would give any state that upgrades to a primary law one-time grant money, said Jack Oates of the NHTSA.

Meanwhile, some indirect funds are available to states that tighten their safety-belt laws.

One incentive grant program, scheduled to end soon, requires states to meet four of six criteria, one of which is passing a primary seat-belt law. Others include having a secondary law and educating the public on child passenger safety.

South Carolina is one of 28 states without a primary seat-belt law. Twenty-one 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.

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