Florida law enforcement officers may soon have the right to pull over motorists they can see are not wearing seatbelts, the Orlando Sentinel reported May 4. Gov. Charlie Crist is widely expected to sign into law a bill passed by the Florida legislature allowing officers to write tickets to motorists they can see are not wearing seatbelts, even if they aren’t suspected of other traffic violations. After court costs and fees, the Sentinel wrote, the cost of the ticket is expected to be $93 to $119. It takes effect June 30.
The law converts the state’s existing seatbelt law from a “secondary” enforcement law to “primary” enforcement. In practice, this means that officers can now pull motorists over and ticket them just for not wearing belts, whereas before they could only write a seatbelt ticket if the motorist had already been pulled over for another violation. The law was the subject of debate for two reasons. Opponents argued that a primary enforcement law would encourage racial profiling by giving officers an excuse to pull more people over. Others objected to the idea of any mandatory seatbelt law at all. Adults should have the right to make their own decisions, the argument goes, even if those decisions are dangerous.
I have a lot of sympathy for freedom arguments. However, as a South Florida auto accident lawyer, I believe that drivers should voluntarily choose to wear a seatbelt, even if it is not required by law. By now, the research is clear that seatbelts save lives — research from the federal Department of Transportation shows that proper seatbelt use cuts the risk of fatal injury in a crash by 45%, and the risk of a serious but nonfatal injury by 50%. Those numbers are for car crashes — the protection is even greater for people in SUVs, pickups and vans. Seatbelts also keep people from being thrown out of their vehicles and from being thrown violently around the vehicle during a rollover, both of which substantially increase the chance of death and serious injuries such as brain damage.
Research also shows that moving to a primary enforcement seatbelt law really does raise the rate of seatbelt use, and substantially so. For example, our neighbors in Alabama adopted a primary enforcement law in 1999, when seatbelt use was at 58%. Two years later, it was at 79%, and in 2005, it had risen to 82%. That is, over six years, nearly a quarter of Alabamans began wearing belts after the law passed. It’s impossible to say how many of these people might have been in car wrecks, but statistics from the Department of Transportation predict that universal seatbelt use would save 33% more lives than seatbelts currently save, or more than 5,000 people every year.
The State of Florida may make some money from this new law, but as a Hollywood car crash attorney, I bet law enforcement would be pleased if everyone buckled up and they couldn’t make a dime. Car wrecks cause deaths and catastrophic, life-changing injuries. When those accidents were caused by another person’s carelessness, victims have the right to sue for all of the costs of the accident, including medical and repair bills, lost work and other financial expenses, and compensation for pain, suffering, injuries and any death or disability.
The Fort Lauderdale car wreck lawyers at Cohn, Smith & Cohn handle these claims for clients throughout South Florida. To learn more about how we can help, please contact us online or call our main Broward County office at (954) 431-8100 for a free, confidential consultation.