Stricter seat-belt rule killed in Massachusetts

| 6/12/2006

In an unlikely turn of events, the Massachusetts House voted to kill a bill that would have permitted 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. Violators face a $25 fine.

The 80-76 vote is a reversal for the House, which had approved the bill in January by a two-vote margin. Senators voted 24-15 to send the primary enforcement bill – H229 – back to the House for final approval before it headed to Gov. Mitt Romney, who had promised to sign it.

Opponents cited personal choice and the potential for racial profiling for their displeasure with the effort. Supporters said saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

Massachusetts is losing out on $14 million in federal funding by not having such a law, The Republican reported.

The Highway Bill signed by President Bush 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 seat-belt usage rate of 65 percent, ranks second to last in the nation behind Mississippi.

There are 25 states without the stricter provision. Twenty-four 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.

Supporters of the bill in Massachusetts said they will renew the effort in the next legislative session, which begins in January.