Stricter seat-belt rule advances in Florida

| 2/7/2007

A Florida Senate panel has unanimously approved a bill that would permit police to pull over drivers in the state for not wearing seat belts.

Under a 1986 state law, police can ticket drivers for not buckling up only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding or a bad taillight.

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee endorsed the bill on a 9-0 vote. The measure - HB27 - now heads to the House Safety and Security Council for further consideration.

The push for primary enforcement of the seat-belt rule had been led by former Democratic state Rep. Irv Slosberg of Boca Raton, whose daughter Dori was killed in a 1996 crash when she wasn't wearing a seat belt. Slosberg left the Legislature a year ago, but the effort has been taken up by Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City.

In the past the bill has run into opposition from those warning of Big Brother-style government intrusion or racial profiling.

The mood toward the bill in the Legislature, however, could be changing. Florida's roads and bridges stand to lose millions in federal funding if the state fails to approve a primary enforcement bill by Dec. 31, 2008.

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.

Florida is one of 25 states without a primary seat-belt law. 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.