Florida’s primary seat-belt bill advances

| 1/7/2008

A Florida House panel advanced a bill that would make the state’s seat belt law a primary offense.

The House Committee on Infrastructure approved the bill by a 6-2 vote. The outcome cleared the way for the bill to move to the House Economic Expansion and Infrastructure Council for further consideration.

Sponsored by Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, the bill – HB11 – would permit police to pull over drivers in the state for not wearing their seat belts. Existing law enacted in 1986 allows police to ticket drivers for not buckling up only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding or a bad taillight.

The effort to make failure to buckle up a primary offense marks the latest in several 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 after the 2006 session and Glorioso picked up the banner for primary seat-belt enforcement during the 2007 session.

Despite the new sponsorship, the effort has continued to run into opposition from those warning of Big Brother-style government intrusion or racial profiling. Last year’s version remained in a House committee when the session ended, killing it.

Supporters say saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

Congress approved legislation in 2005 that gives any state that adopts tougher seat belt rules or achieves a belt usage rate of 85 percent access to one-time federal grant money for roads. States have until Dec. 31, 2008, to approve primary seat belt legislation or they risk losing out on the funding.

Florida is one of 24 states without a primary seat-belt law. Twenty-five 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.

Another bill in Florida intended to increase safety on the state’s highways would require guardrails, retention cables or other barriers to be installed to separate roadways from canals or bodies of water.

Sponsored by Rep. Yolly Roberson, D-Miami, the bill would require the Florida Department of Transportation to install and maintain the protection system.

The bill – HB403 – is awaiting assignment to committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor