New seat belt law affects USF

University Police (UP) will be able to pull over drivers for not wearing their seat belt – without having to observe any other violation – starting Tuesday.

The Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law, signed by Gov. Charlie Crist on May 6, allows seat belt violations to be primary offenses.

Prior to the bill, the law allowed officers to cite drivers only if the motorists had been stopped for another violation, such as speeding.

According to the bill, the provision will be a non-moving violation and violators will be subject to a $30 fine. With additional fees and court costs, the total for breaking the law could be anywhere from $68.50 to $89.50.

“We are concerned about keeping our public safe,” said UP spokeswoman Meg Ross. “This is another tool to help keep our students safe.”

The new law was named after the daughter of Florida Representative Irv Slosberg and a Durant High School student, whose families have pushed for stricter seat belt legislation since the deaths of their children in automobile accidents.

Edward Mierzejewski, who directs the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), said that before legislators passed the law, Florida had not conformed to federal government encouragement to have a primary seat belt law.

Because of this, the state had given up millions of dollars in federal highway money, he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the seat belt law makes Florida eligible to receive a $35.5-million grant from a federal safety belt incentive program.

Mierzejewski said the law was not passed previously because lawmakers and rural leaders thought the tougher seat belt policy was an intrusion of government.

Daniel Bergin, a senior electrical engineering major, said he agrees that the ruling is an infringement of government.

He said the seat belt law infringes on personal rights and is an example of the state using its power to control people’s lives.

“I think if someone wants to look out for their own safety, they will put on a seat belt,” Bergin said. “They don’t need someone to breathe down their back and tell them to do it or they’re going to get a fine. I see how it has some safety applications, but I don’t think the police need to be getting into personal safety matters.”

However, Mierzejewski said he wonders how people can argue against having a seat belt law. He said he picks up a newspaper every day and sees how the people who survive car accidents are the ones who are wearing their seat belts.

“I can’t imagine getting into a car and not putting my seat belt on,” Mierzejewski said. “It just blows me away that it takes a law to get people to do that.”

Anna-Maria Deloucas, a junior psychology major, said her parents encouraged her to wear a seat belt so often that she puts it on unconsciously every time she gets in a car.

“At this point, I feel uncomfortable not wearing it,” she said.

Additional statute changes include exemptions for vehicles not required to be equipped with seat belts and deletion of the exemption for pickup truck passengers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if every state with a secondary seat belt law upgraded to primary-level enforcement, states could save about 1,000 lives and more than $4 billion each year.