Florida lawmakers pursue primary seat belt enforcement, young driver limits

| 12/4/2008

A legislative effort in Florida to make failure to buckle up a primary offense has been renewed. Another bill would put in place passenger limits for young drivers.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, filed the first bill of the 2009 regular session. The measure – HB1 – would permit police to pull over drivers in the state for not wearing their seat belts. Existing state law allows police to pull over 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 a seat belt violation a primary offense marks the latest in several attempts to get stricter enforcement 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 has picked up the banner for primary seat belt enforcement since 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. Supporters say saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

The 2005 federal highway funding legislation gives any state that adopts tougher seat belt rules one-time grant money. The last chance for states to upgrade their seat belt law and access extra federal funding is Sept. 30, 2009.

Florida is one of 23 states without a primary seat belt law. Twenty-six 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 would put passenger limits on young drivers. Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, the bill would prohibit drivers under age 18 from transporting more than three passengers under age 18 during the first six months after obtaining their licenses. Exceptions would be made for relatives.

After six months, drivers 16 to 18 could have no more than three passengers at a time under 18.

Violations would be secondary offenses.

Skidmore’s bill – HB7 – and Glorioso’s bill can be considered during the session that begins in March.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor