Stricter seat-belt rule falters in Florida, again

| 5/17/2007

A failed effort in the Florida Legislature sought to permit police to pull over drivers in the state for not wearing their 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 bill – HB27 – would have made failure to buckle up a primary offense. However, it remained in the House Safety and Security Council when the session ended, effectively killing it for the year.

This marks the latest in several failed attempts to get stricter enforcement of the state’s seat-belt rule through the statehouse. The push 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 this year’s effort was picked up Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City.

Despite the new sponsorship, the effort again ran into opposition from those warning of Big Brother-style government intrusion or racial profiling.

Failure to approve the bill puts the state in jeopardy of losing millions in federal funding for roads and bridges.

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. To avoid losing out on the money, states must approve primary enforcement by Dec. 31, 2008.

Florida is one of 24 states without a primary seat-belt law. Maine’s recent adoption of the stricter rule brings to 25 the number of states that 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.