Buckle Up: Seat Belt Law Takes Effect on Tuesday
When the bill that allows police to pull over and ticket adult drivers if they see them not wearing a seat belt goes into effect Tuesday, it’ll be two decades later than sponsor Nan Rich would have liked.
But despite the delay, it will still be right on time, Rich, D-Weston, said.
“It’s kind of sad when you think about all the lives that could have been saved over the years, but it’s better late than never,” Rich said.
“It only took 20 years of trying,” Rich said of the new seat belt rules, but the results of primary enforcement afforded by the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law will be felt as soon as the clock strikes midnight and Tuesday begins, she said.
“More people will wear seatbelts and that will result in lives being saved and a reduction of medical costs,” Rich said. “I think we’ll see the impact immediately with the first crash of somebody who wouldn’t have been wearing a seat belt but is now because of this law.”
The law also applies to front seat passengers. Police can already pull over motorists if they believe a child under 18 is unbelted, no matter where they are in the vehicle.
The old law only allowed police to write tickets to adult motorists for not wearing seat belts after pulling them over for something else. However, starting Tuesday, those that do not strap themselves in behind the wheel will be fined $30, money Rich said will be funneled to several state trust funds that have seen their numbers going in the other direction more often than not lately.
But Rich quickly added that the increased revenue was not really the point.
“We really don’t want the money,” she said. “We’d rather see them wearing their seat belts. Hopefully as people see that they are going to be ticketed, they’ll start buckling up.”
The new law will also enable the state to receive $35 million in highway money from the federal government that is distributed to states with primary seat belt laws. Rich said the federal money would be available by October.
Backers said during debate over the seat belt bill this spring that it would prevent 124 traffic deaths and more than 1,700 accident injuries in Florida per year. Kevin Bakewell, senior Vice President of AAA Auto Club South, said Monday that when a similar measure was passed recently in Tennessee, the organization’s projections were quickly surpassed.
“When we did this in Tennessee, which is a much smaller state, we projected saving about 95 lives, but in the first year there were 130 less traffic deaths,” Bakewell told the News Service.
Bakewell added that the law is going into effect at the beginning of a week that will end with 30 million people hitting the highway for the July 4 holiday weekend.
But while Rich and Bakewell were celebrating a law that was years in the making, the people who will have to enforce it starting Tuesday were delivering a warning to Florida drivers: do not expect a first-time warning.
“We are committed to educating motorists and modifying driver behavior to ensure that they buckle up,” said Major Ryan Burchnell, commander of the Florida Highway Patrol Troop that covers Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Pasco, Hernando, Sumter and Citrus counties, in a statement. “However, we will continue our policy of zero tolerance for violators. The Florida Highway Patrol does not give warnings for safety belt violations.”