The Florida legislature is considering a law that would enable law enforcement officers to pull over drivers for not wearing a seat belt, Tallahassee’s WCTV reported Feb. 4. Rep. Rich Glorioso of Plant City introduced the bill, which strengthens Florida’s existing seat belt law. Similar legislation has been considered by the Florida legislature before, but died, in part because of concerns that it would enable or encourage racial profiling. This year, the bill comes with an added incentive: If it passes, the Florida Department of Transportation would be eligible for $35 million for improving our highways.
Currently, Florida has what’s called a “secondary enforcement” law, which means law enforcement can’t pull drivers over just because someone in the vehicle isn’t wearing a seat belt. However, if the driver is pulled over for another reason, an officer is free to ticket him or her for seat belt violations as well. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 23 states have such laws; 26 others and Washington, D.C. have primary enforcement laws, which allow officers to make traffic stops over seatbelt violations alone. (New Hampshire alone has no seat belt requirements at all.)
Glorioso told reporters that the legislation could save 200 lives a year and prevent 2,700 more serious injuries from car crashes. That assertion is borne out by numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which says seat belts reduce the risk of death for front-seat occupants by 45% and injury by 50%. More than 15,000 lives were saved in 2007 alone by the use of seat belts, the agency estimates. In the same year, the NHTSA says, 70% of people killed in car or light truck accidents weren’t wearing seatbelts.
There is a legitimate argument to be made that adults should have the freedom to choose to take those risks. But given these numbers, it seems clear that buckling up is the safer thing to do, law or no law. Furthermore, studies of states that went from a secondary enforcement law to primary enforcement, as Florida would do, find millions in cost savings to state and federal government health care programs, which pick up the tab when someone without medical insurance is seriously injured. One study of Massachusetts hospital data predicted $9.6 million in savings to federal and state governments because of a new primary enforcement law, in addition to $55.8 million in savings to insurance companies.
Even if the current proposal never becomes law, Florida drivers should seriously consider wearing seatbelts to prevent some of the very serious effects of an auto accident. Car wrecks can kill their victims or cause permanent disabilities, including amputations, brain damage and paralysis. When they are caused by another person’s carelessness, victims have the right to fight back with a Florida car accident lawsuit. Cohn, Smith & Cohn helps clients throughout South Florida win money to pay their medical bills, repair bills and other costs of the accident, as well as compensation for a serious injury, physical pain and even the death of a loved one.