Stricter seat-belt rule advances in Mississippi

| 1/18/2006

The Mississippi House has approved a bill that would permit police to pull over drivers in the state who are not buckled up.

Currently, police can issue seat-belt citations to a driver only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

In an effort to boost the state’s 60 percent belt usage rate – the lowest-in-the-nation – House lawmakers voted 95-25 Jan. 12 to advance a primary law for enforcement. The effort – HB409 – now heads to the state’s Senate for further consideration.

The Senate, meanwhile, has approved its own version of a primary seat-belt bill – SB2086. It has been forwarded to the House. The two chambers must agree on one final version before sending it to Gov. Haley Barbour for approval.

The House version would apply to drivers and front-seat passengers, and calls for $25 fines – the same as current state law. The Senate version would apply to drivers and any passengers, and it would double the fine to $50. Both versions prohibit points from being assessed against a driver’s license.

The effort is expected to get a good long look from legislators. Mississippi ’s roads and bridges stand to lose out on millions in federal funding if the state fails to approve a primary enforcement bill by Dec. 31, 2008.

The Highway Bill approved by Congress in August 2005 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. Mississippi potentially could claim $8.7 million.

Mississippi is one of 27 states without the stricter provision. Twenty-two 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.