Full WV Senate will take up the stronger seat belt law - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Full WV Senate will take up the stronger seat belt law

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West Virginia is yet another step closer to making the failure to wear a seat belt a primary traffic offense, which means a driver not wearing one could be pulled over just for that reason.

House Bill 2108 passed the House of Delegates March 28 by a vote of 55-44, and it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee April 4 after several questions.

Failure to wear a seat belt currently is a secondary violation, so a driver could not be pulled over for that if he or she hadn't already been pulled over for something else, and the fine currently is anywhere from $0 to a maximum of $25.

The bill would make the fine a mandatory $25.

Bob Tipton, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Program told lawmakers Maryland enacted a law to make failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense, and the state has seen a "steady decline in fatalities," since that legislation was enacted, but he was unaware of the percentage.

Tipton said passing the bill would bring roughly $1 million more in federal funds for projects related to "occupant protection," such as child passenger safety seat

Lt. Reginald Patterson with the West Virginia State Police told lawmakers that the new law would not distract troopers from enforcing other crimes, but it would save their energy and resources by not having to respond to as many incidents from injured drivers and passengers who were not wearing seat belts.

Patterson also explained that even if a vehicle is stopped for a seat belt violation, he could not automatically enact a search and seizure of the vehicle – he would need reasonable cause or suspicion of another crime.

And Jill Rice, president of the West Virginia Insurance Federation, told lawmakers 32 states already have primary seat belt enforcement.

The bill was passed to the full Senate.