The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 9, 2013

Seatbelt law appears headed for passage

CHARLESTON — Get set to buckle up in West Virginia, or prepared to shell out for not using a seatbelt.

For five years now, Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, has sought to lead the Legislature into making failure to use a belt a primary traffic offense.

Come Wednesday, he is likely to see his long-running efforts pay off, barring a surprise vote on the Senate floor.

A few senators probably will vote against HB2108, but Palumbo was confident Monday he had more than enough votes in hand to send the bill to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

“It looks like it’s finally going to happen,” he said.

Palumbo doubted the bill would face any amendments in today’s floor session, and pointed out it has cleared easily in the Senate the past four years. This time around, Palumbo elected to let the bill take its initial cruise in the House, since that is where it has stalled four times.

Last winter, the Legislature made texting a primary offense, and come July, the use of a hand-held wireless device moves from a secondary to primary traffic violation.

In a primary offense, police need no other reason to pull over a motorist and write out a ticket. But under a secondary offense law, police must spot some other violation initially.

Statistics bear out that injuries and deaths are reduced, along with the costs of providing medical attention, when primary offense laws regarding highway safety are on the books, Palumbo said.

“What you see statistically in other states is that when it goes from a secondary to primary offense is usually a 7 to 8 percent increase in seatbelt use,” he said.

“That translates into a reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries. I would suspect we would see that here as well.”

Thirty-two states make failure to hook up a seatbelt for front seat occupants a primary traffic offense.

“We’re getting into the majority,” Palumbo said.

Opposition generally has been couched in a belief that a motorist should govern the operation of his vehicle without governmental interference.

“I would say to that, it’s already a law if you’re in the front seat that you have to wear your seatbelt,” Palumbo said.

“This isn’t changing. It’s just a matter of enforcement.”

Palumbo said another issue is that the uninsured impose a financial burden on taxpayers when they are injured seriously while not using the safety devices.

Normally, the rule of thumb says it takes three years to get legislation passed at the Capitol, and Palumbo acknowledged his bill has taken five years.

“It did, but a lot of things like this take a long time,” he added.

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