Seat Belts

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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A restraining device used to secure passengers in motorized vehicles.

Congress first passed seat-belt legislation in 1966. By the 1990s, increased measures were being taken to enforce the laws. Under section 402 of 23 U.S.C.A. (1997), a portion of federal highway funds may be withheld from states if they do not have an approved highway safety program to reduce the number and severity of traffic accidents. One of the measures a state must include in its highway safety program is a provision that encourages drivers and passengers to use seat belts. In 2003, the GEORGE W. BUSH administration proposed incentives, which would amount to $100 million in highway funding, for states to enact mandatory seat-belt laws. According to the U.S. TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT, "Every 1 percent increase in nationwide safety belt use means a savings of about 250 lives."

In states that require the use of seat belts by all drivers and front-seat passengers, the failure to use a seat belt is a violation that carries a fine. In most of these states, police officers do not stop persons in vehicles for failing to use a seat belt. This is called a secondary seat-belt law. In West Virginia, for example, Section 17C-15-49 of West Virginia Code states, "Enforcement ? shall be accomplished only as a secondary action when a driver of a passenger vehicle has been detained for PROBABLE CAUSE of violating another section of this code." In other words, once a vehicle is stopped for any other infraction, the driver may be ticketed if the driver or a front-seat passenger is not belted. In other states, such as Washington and Delaware, for example, a police officer may pull over a car if he suspects a driver or a passenger of not using a seat belt. This is a called a primary seat-belt law. The fine for violating a mandatory seat-belt law usually is minimal; in Delaware, the fine is $25.

New Hampshire is the only state that does not have an adult seat-belt requirement (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 265: 107-a [1995]). Motor vehicle passengers under the age of 12, however, must wear a seat belt. The New Hampshire Department of Safety administers programs that increase public awareness of the importance of seat belts, and roadside signs placed throughout the state remind drivers that buckling up is mandatory for children and sound advice for all persons.

All states have some type of mandatory seat-belt laws for children. The laws...

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