New seat belt law is good for Florida drivers

Effective Tuesday, Florida and Arkansas will join 26 other states in which not wearing a seat belt is a primary violation.

Under Florida’s old law, law enforcement officers could not pull over drivers simply for not wearing a seat belt. Citations for seat belts could only be issued if the driver committed a primary violation such as speeding, having a broken tail light or littering.

Under the new law, drivers can be pulled over and cited if an adult in the front seat or a minor anywhere in the car is unbuckled.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that seat belts save 11,000 lives every year. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in a statement released by NHTSA, “Wearing a seat belt costs nothing and yet it’s the single most effective traffic safety device ever invented.”

Because not wearing a seat belt is so dangerous, it only makes sense for it to become a stoppable offense.

Many disregard the dangers and believe wearing a seat belt should be a personal choice, but unbuckled passengers can be a danger to others in the car. A 2004 study at the University of Washington found that even restrained passengers could be injured or killed by unrestrained passengers who are tossed out of their seat in an accident.

The bill was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. Courtney Strickland, director of public policy for the union, admitted that seat belts save lives but told the Naples Daily News, “The question is whether bringing in the police and the criminal justice system is the right approach to get people to wear seat belts. Our answer to that is ‘No.'”

While safety awareness campaigns are an important component of increasing seat belt use, receiving a ticket is an effective reminder for drivers to buckle up. The state penalty will be $30 but county fees will increase the expense. In Hillsborough County the total fine will be $101, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

In states with primary enforcement laws for seat belts, more people buckle up, which means fewer fatalities. According to NHTSA data for 2008, 83 percent of people nationwide wear seat belts. In states with primary enforcement laws, usage is at 88 percent, while it is only 75 percent in other states.

When the national seat belt use rate was at 63 percent, NHTSA estimated that increasing the rate to 90 percent would save 5,536 lives, prevent 132,670 injuries and save the U.S. $8.8 billion annually.

Stronger enforcement of seat belt laws will save lives and a hefty fine will be worth the price if it leads to safer driving habits.