Stricter seat-belt rule sought in Missouri

| 1/3/2007

If a leading Missouri state lawmaker gets his way, police would be allowed to pull over drivers who are not buckled up.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Neal St. Onge, R-Ellisville, has offered a bill that would allow for primary enforcement of the state's seat belt law. Currently, law enforcement in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a driver for another violation, such as speeding.

Opponents cite personal choice and the potential for racial profiling among the concerns about the stricter enforcement effort. Supporters say saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

St. Onge's effort has the backing of the state's leading transportation official.

Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said getting a primary seat belt law through the General Assembly is one of his top priorities.

"We've worked hard to inform the public about the importance of safety belt use, but it's apparent that awareness campaigns and secondary enforcement can only get us so far," Rahn said in a written statement.

If approved, Missouri would be line for a one-time $16 million payment from the federal funding, the Quincy Herald-Whig reported.

The 2005 federal Highway Bill 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.

Missouri has a seat-belt usage rate of 75.2 percent. Rahn said enacting stricter enforcement would increase safety belt use by about 11 percent.

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.

The proposed seat-belt rule in Missouri - HB90 - could come up for consideration during the session that begins Jan. 3.