Massachusetts House OKs stricter seat-belt rule

| Friday, January 27, 2006

After two rare tie votes in the past few years, the Massachusetts House narrowly 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 drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

House lawmakers voted 76-74 Jan. 19 to advance the measure – H229 – to the Senate, which has passed similar bills twice before. If approved there, it would move to Gov. Mitt Romney, who has said he supports primary seat-belt enforcement.

Similar primary seat-belt efforts have stalled twice in the House since 2001. That year, lawmakers deadlocked 76-76 on stricter enforcement. Two years later, they stalemated with a 73-73 tally.

Despite lawmakers’ previous inability to adopt stricter rules on buckling up, Massachusetts still could be in line for additional federal funding if it passes a primary enforcement bill by Dec. 31, 2008.

The Highway Bill approved by Congress last year 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.

Massachusetts, with a usage rate of 65 percent, 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.

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