CHARLESTON — During Tuesday’s legislative session at the State Capitol in Charleston, the Senate Transportation Committee members unanimously approved a bill to make failure to wear seatbelts a primary traffic offense.
Although the legislation has been introduced numerous times in past years, the Transportation Committee Chairman commented that he’s confident the bill has enough momentum this year to become law.
“I honestly believe the time has come,” Bob Beach (D-Monongalia) said of toughening enforcement of the state’s mandatory seatbelt law. “With the passage last year of the texting and cellphone bills, the timing is exactly right for this seatbelt bill.”
In 2012, WV became the 41st state to prohibit texting on cellphones while driving. Texting became a primary offense, meaning that police officers can pull over drivers for that violation alone as of July 1 of last year. The use of a hand-held cellphone currently is a secondary offense under that law, but becomes a primary offense this July 1, which means that motorists have just a few months to install hands-free devices and holders in their vehicles to avoid violating the law.
“This is about enhanced safety for the people of West Virginia, and those who travel through the state,” the Chairman said.
The WV Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has endorsed this piece of legislation and stated in a press released that if WV makes its seat-belt law a primary offense, it will qualify for an additional $1.2 million a year of federal highway safety funding.
Besides making failure to wear seat belts a primary offense, the bill would also require all passengers to wear seat belts, a change from the current law that exempts passengers over the age 18 that are not in the front seat of the vehicle. As drafted, the bill sets a flat fine of $15 for violations but the committee increased that to $25 per violation, to comply with the minimum fine permissible under federal highway standards. The bill also allows exceptions for persons who have medical conditions that make it impossible or impractical to wear seat belts such as casts or other medical devices, and also gives special considerations to individuals who are morbidly obese. That exception would require a certified statement from the individual’s physician before the fine and citation would be waived.
The bill still has to go through the Senate Judiciary Committee before it goes before the full Senate.