Seat belt law tightens in West Virginia

| March 30, 2016

West Virginia drivers may now be pulled over for seat belt violations – by themselves, without any other infractions – if a new measure recently approved by the state’s House of Delegates 55-44 is passed by the Senate.

Currently, drivers, front-seat passengers and backseat passengers under age 18 are required to wear safety belts in West Virginia. However, not wearing a seat belt is considered a secondary offense. In other words, not wearing a seat belt can only be noted during a traffic stop for another violation. As a primary offense, however, not wearing a seat belt would be considered reason enough to be pulled over.

Welcome to West Virginia sign

With the fourth highest rate of fatal road accidents, driving in West Virginia can be wild indeed. Via Joelk75; licensed under Creative Commons.

What’s next? The bill, which had been endorsed by the House Judiciary Committee in early March by 13-11, will be sent to the Senate. The Senate approved a similar measure last year. If passed, the fine will remain $25. However, violators may incur additional court costs that they would not have faced prior to this legislation.

The AP reported that, based on the most recent NHTSA data, West Virginia had the fourth-worst road death rate in the country in 2010. Additionally, the state’s seat belt use rate was eighty-two percent that year – which is below the nationwide rate of eighty-five percent.

West Virginia’s WSAZ, a local TV station, reported in February that Charleston Police Sgt. Shawn Williams spoke out in favor of the bill. “There’s always usually three common denominators with fatalities in West Virginia: it’s either no seat belt, alcohol, or speed… If we can help eliminate one of those, by the passage of this law, then we consider it very successful.”

Is your seat belt fastened? sign

According to a Charleston official, road accidents in W. Va. nearly always involve either speed, alcohol, or an unfastened seat belt. Signage is one way to improve matters – but the law needs teeth, too. Via

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, all states except New Hampshire have mandatory safety belt laws on the books. In 16 states, including West Virginia, the use of seat belts can even affect civil lawsuits. (The “safety belt defense” means that damages collected due to a crash can be reduced if someone involved was not using a seat belt.)

Thirty-one other states already treat lack of safety belt use as a primary, not secondary offense, including the neighboring states of Kentucky (applicable to passengers over 40 inches tall in all seats) and South Carolina (applicable to passengers age six and above in all seats). Other neighboring states, including Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania have secondary offense seat belt rules.

Seat belt

The vote to strengthen seat belt laws wasn’t unanimous – opponents find the law tyrannical. Via goodgerster; licensed under Creative Commons.

Eighteen Democrats opposed the bill while the House’s 46 Republicans were split on the vote.

Delegates shared their personal experiences with traffic-related accidents and deaths, citing family members and loved ones who had been affected by the belts. Yet there was dissension reported even among those who shared stories of personal loss. Delegate Jim Butler, a Republican, agreed that wearing a seatbelt is a “wise practice,” but argued that the measure would infringe upon the rights of the individual.

Delegate Margaret Smith, a Democrat, spoke of how her brother died in a car crash. She voted for the bill, calling it one of the most significant votes she has cast. “We’re going to save some lives,” Smith said.

Category: News, Transportation