South Carolina advances mandatory seat-belt bill

| 3/4/2005

A South Carolina House panel has OK’d a bill to permit police to pull over drivers who are not wearing their seat belts.

The House Education and Public Works Committee voted in late February to forward the bill to the full House for further consideration. The bill – S1 – passed the Senate early last month.

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.”

The bill’s current version requires drivers found in violation to be fined up to $25 – the same amount under present law. Revenue would be used to help pay for the state’s Amber Alert system for missing children. No points would be assessed against a driver’s license.

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.

Supporters say a primary seat-belt law would pave the way for better rural roads. A proposal before Congress would give any state that upgrades to a primary law one-time grant money.

A stricter seat-belt provision could put the state in line to receive an additional $18 million in federal highway funds, The Post and Courier reported. State transportation leaders say some of that money could go to rural roads, which have not been eligible for federal funding before.

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.

House lawmakers are expected to make a final vote on the bill before the end of the week.