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Lawmakers push for seatbelt enforcement

February 12, 2002
By: Sonia Valero
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Cops would be able to stop you for driving without a seatbelt under a measure presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

While Missouri law requires you to wear a seatbelt, a police officer cannot stop you unless you are violating some other law.

"Nowadays it is possible to drive right by a police officer or a state trooper not wearing your seat belt and there is nothing they can do about it," said Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles, who championed stronger seatbelt enforcement two years ago.

This year, idea has been sponsored by Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County. Her bill would allow a law enforcement officer to enforce the seat belt law if the officer is able to see the violation.

"It is definitely to me a bill whose time has come," Sims said. "We know now documented that if an adult does not wear a sealtbelt, the kids do not wear it either."

Romell Cooks, regional administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was one of the ten witnesses who supported the bill.

Cooks said that for 2001 the seat belt use rate observed in Missouri was 67.9 percent, compared to 73 percent nationally. She argued that public revenues pay for an estimated 24 percent of medical costs of people injured in motor vehicle crashes.

"We must not forget the effect on our children," Cooks said. "Research shows that when a driver is unbuckled, 70 percent of the time the children in that vehicle are not buckled either."

Brad Freeman, a trauma surgeon at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, said vehicle crashes are one of the more common causes of death and disability in the state of Missouri. Freeman spoke about the tragedy for the individuals and families involved in vehicle crashes, as well as the financial and economic burden on society.

"Patients who survive severe motor vehicle collisions will typically spend weeks if not months in the hospital, the most of the time in the intensive care units that costs thousands dollars a day to our insurance companies for the state of Missouri," Freeman said.

"Many of them will ultimately go to rehabilitation facilities and never regain a functional quality of life and in a sense are burdens to society for the remainder of their life," he added.

Nobody testified against the bill. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

The committee chairman, Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, said he would hold a vote soon.