The Times West Virginian

February 24, 2013

Seatbelt law not about individual liberties; it’s move that could save lives

Times West Virginian

— When you get behind the wheel of a car, you make a series of choices.

You choose to operate a well-maintained vehicle with current license plates and inspection sticker.

You choose to operate that vehicle without being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which can impair driving.

You choose to drive within a posted speed limit.

You choose to to drive without distraction — no texting and by July 1, no speaking on a phone without a hands-free device.

These are all choices. They happen to all be primary-offense laws, too, meaning that if an officer observes you failing to abide by them, he can pull you over and cite you for that offense.

Wearing a seatbelt is a choice, too, but a motorist has to be committing some other traffic or vehicle offense in order to be cited for failing to buckle up.

A bill that would make it a primary offense backed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo made it out of the House Roads and Transportation Committee with approval. But the Kanawha County senator isn’t getting his hopes up because similar bills in years past have failed to make it to a vote on the House floor.

It’s been four years that he’s championed this measure. Palumbo told the Beckley Register-Herald that it might have to do with “a feeling of rugged individualism, steeped in a belief that it is none of the government’s business if one is belted or not while in traffic.

“I think it’s just a mentality of individual liberties and government overreach,” Palumbo said late last week. “People say it’s none of government’s business if I get in a wreck and kill myself. But in a lot of situations, it does come back to the government.”

People injured as the result of vehicle accidents where seatbelts were not used may be uninsured or rely on Medicaid or the Public Employees Insurance Agency, which means higher treatments costs and premiums for the many state-funded insured.

But it goes further than that.

By not making the use of seatbelts a primary offense law, the state is just giving up $1.2 million in federal dollars per year. Those federal highway dollars are needed and could be put to great use in the Mountain State.

So it comes down to choice again. State lawmakers have to make a choice between letting this legislation go by the wayside for yet another legislative session, or making the same stance they did with distracted driving and truly say “Click it or Ticket.”

This isn’t about personal liberties. This is a deterrent that could save lives.