Nebraska legislators are considering a bill that would make seat belts mandatory for everyone in the vehicle. Current law only requires the driver and front-seat passenger to be belted in. Senator Roy Baker of Lincoln is sponsoring the legislation.
“The law calls for secondary enforcement, meaning, a citation can only be issued if the driver’s first charged with another violation,” Baker says. “I chose to leave it that way from the desire to get a bill that would pass.”
The state’s secondary offense seat belt law has been on the books since 1993. You can’t be cited for not wearing a seatbelt unless you’re stopped for some other violation. Fifteen states have secondary offense seatbelt laws, while 34 states and the District of Columbia have stronger, primary offense laws. Only New Hampshire, has no occupant protection law.
Baker’s seat belt bill is getting the backing of Laurie Klosterboer, executive director of the Nebraska Safety Council.
“Do unbelted occupants pose a risk to other people in the vehicle? Yes,” Klosterboer says. “In a frontal crash, drivers and front seat passengers are at increased risk of injury from unbelted back seat passengers and in a side impact crash, passengers sitting adjacent to unbelted passengers are at increased risk of injury.”
Safety experts say an unbelted person can become, in effect, a missile who injures themselves or others, in a crash.
Coleen Nielsen, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance, says a recent study found rear seat passengers often believe they are safer, simply because of their position in the vehicle.
“This shows a clear misunderstanding about why belts are important, no matter where the person sits in the vehicle,” Nielsen says. “Further, those safety belts are proven to save lives. More than half of the people who die in passenger vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year are unbelted. One person’s decision not buckle up can have consequences for the other people riding with them.”
Another related vehicle safety bill, from Senator Bob Krist of Omaha, would make it a primary offense for younger drivers to use a handheld wireless devices while behind the wheel.
Senator Baker, who represents the 30th District of Gage County and part of Lancaster County, says there are compliance differences between states that have primary seatbelt laws and those like Nebraska, where it’s a secondary offense. In states where it’s a secondary law, an average of 80-to-83% of people use seatbelts. In states with primary offense laws, it’s about 89%.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice