Senators push for sanctioning states that lack a mandatory seat belt law

Above the protests of the Bush administration, momentum is building in the United States Senate to pass a law sanctioning states that don't have a mandatory seat belt law.

The prime movers — Senators John Warner (R-VA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), and Mike DeWine (R-OH) — support passage of the National Highway Safety Act of 2003. This legislation would require states to raise their seat belt usage rate to 90% or enact a primary seat belt law within three years or lose 2% of their federal funding, which would grow to 4% in several years.

A primary seat belt law allows law enforcement officers to stop a driver who is not wearing a seat belt and write a citation. Secondary seat belt laws allow an officer to issue a citation for non-seat belt use only if the driver was stopped for another infraction.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws.

“This legislation is no fad or experiment. It's a proven success. Nearly every state that has passed primary enforcement has cut death and injury significantly. Yet today, less than half the states have enacted such laws,” said Warner.

US Department of Transportation officials, in a prepared response, said: “The administration opposes sanctions and withholding state funds, both of which would jeopardize important state-level safety programs and infrastructure maintenance programs already in place.”

In December, Transportation Secretary Norman Y Mineta announced a national public-private partnership to combat low safety belt use among the nation's 11 million truck drivers. The program was spurred by a first-ever DOT survey that found only 48% of all commercial vehicle drivers wear safety belts.

Nationally, 79% of passenger vehicle drivers wear safety belts. In comparison, the low number of truck drivers buckling up has taken a severe toll. In 2002, of the 588 commercial drivers killed in crashes, more than half were not wearing safety belts. Of the 171 drivers who were ejected from their trucks, almost 80% of them were not wearing safety belts.

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