Whether Missouri law enforcement should be allowed to pull someone over for not wearing a seat belt has gotten less attention in recent years, but for some it’s still a priority.
Missouri is one of 18 states throughout the nation that does not have a primary seat belt law. Forty-four Missouri cities and counties have passed a primary seat belt ordinance, but the state of Missouri still has a secondary seat belt law in place. A driver must break another law first before they can be cited for a seat belt violation.
The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety’s goal is to strengthen Missouri’s seat belt law to allow for primary enforcement. It believes that would increase seat belt usage.
Bill Whitfield with MODOT’s Highway Safety Program says seat belts save lives.
“If you’re unbelted you have a one in 32 chance of being killed, if you’re belted those odds go to one in 1,329,” said Whitfield.
Whitfield says Missouri currently has a seat belt usage rate of 79 percent and it has been at that level for the past few years. “So, we are somewhat at a stalemate at reaching that last 20 percent of our population,” said Whitfield. Whitfield says teen drivers buckle up less frequently than adults with a usage rate of 67 percent.
Whitfield predicts if Missouri were to pass a primary seat belt law, seat belt usage would increase by eight percent. “Just by having an additional eight percent of the population that would be buckled up, it’s estimated that could save possibly 43 lives a year,” said Whitfield.
State Representative Galen Higdon filed a primary seat belt bill last year, but it did not go anywhere. In fact, it never made it out of committee. Higdon says he might file the bill again this year.
“If I get enough support from my district, from my community, then I would. But, I’ll just have to wait and see,” said Higdon.
Higdon is also considering sending out a questionnaire to his district to gauge support.
Opponents have claimed that primary laws impose on individual rights and give law enforcement an opportunity to harass minority groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown minority groups were ticketed at similar or lower rates than others after a primary law was implemented.