Lawmakers debate seat belt law

Florida lawmakers are in the process of passing a bill that would change the requirements of the Florida Safety Belt law. The bill that was introduced by Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, will make failing to fasten one’s seat belt a primary offense.

In Florida, use of safety belts are required by law, but choosing not to buckle up is only a secondary offense, meaning police can only give a safety belt citation if a motorist is stopped for another violation. As a primary offense, police would be able to stop a vehicle and give the motorist a citation solely for not buckling up.

“I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through,” said Slosberg, whose daughter was killed because she was not wearing a safety belt. “This bill has been held up for 15 years, and I will continue to bring it back every year.”

Recently, Slosberg joined Sen. Anthony “Tony” Hill, D-Jacksonville, in moving the bill through the Senate.

“Without Tony in the Senate, the bill would have never moved,” Slosberg said. “We didn’t have a champion. Tony is that champion.”

Hill, whose bill slightly differs from Slosberg’s, said he changed the issue from a criminal justice issue to a health issue.

“My bill focuses on seat belt use for people under 18. Adults will get tickets (as a primary offense) for kids not buckled up,” Hill said.

Many legislators, including Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, oppose changing the safety belt laws.

“Making (safety belt use) a primary law would increase racial profiling,” Joyner said.

To combat fears of racial profiling, Hill amended the bill to add that law enforcement provide a yearly report to the governor and Legislature.

“Racial profiling isn’t what is killing our kids, it is not wearing seat belts,” he said.

Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said upgrading safety laws from secondary to primary increases safety belt use.

A NHTSA survey also found that safety belt use is higher in states with primary safety belt laws because people are more likely to buckle up to avoid a citation.

“The states that have seat belt laws in place have not only noticed an increase in usage, but also a decline in fatal crashes,” said Joe Giangrosso, traffic investigations/ occupant protection coordinator for the Tallahassee Police Department. “It takes only three seconds to save your own life.”

FAMU Police Chief Calvin Ross said the passage of this bill will result in a safety belt law that will save lives and avoid unnecessary injuries.

“For many non-safety belt users, and especially young people, the threat of a ticket has proven to be a greater inducement to buckle up than the threat of injury or death,” Ross said.

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System reported that in 2002, 71 percent of people injured and 67 percent of people killed in motor vehicle accidents were unrestrained.

“In 2001, there were more than 50,000 college age drivers between 20-24 years involved in traffic crashes in Florida,” Ross said.

“More than 200 were killed and about 16,000 were injured. It is known that more than 60 percent of those killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing safety belts, a factor that could have saved their lives,” he said.

To combat the motor accident related statistics in America numerous nationwide and state safety belt campaigns were created to increase safety belt use. The nationwide “Click It or Ticket It” campaign was started by the NHTSA as a way to highlight the importance of buckling up.

“Unfortunately, many college aged students choose not to wear safety belts, and they pay the consequences,” Ross said. “If they are fortunate, they pay a fine. The alternative could result in injury or even death in an accident.”

NHTSA said the lives of an estimated 1,300 blacks could be saved and 26,000 injuries could be prevented if black people wore safety belts.

As a way to combat this issue, FAMU professors Kay Wilder and Charles Wright along with the Florida Department of Transportation developed the “Minority Youth Occupant Protection Initiative.” The initiative, which began in 2001, partnered with local law enforcement to create safety belt awareness campaigns in Tallahassee and across Florida.

With the increase of safety belt usage initiatives, 80 percent of Americans were buckled up in 2004, compared to 58 percent in 1994. However, only 75 percent of Floridians buckle up.

“It is anticipated that the legislation will increase the safety belt usage by about 15 percent in Florida,” Ross said.

“Fifteen percent usage equates to nearly 200 lives saved annually.”

“In the end, I think we can save some lives,” Hill said.

Contact Johnitta T. Richards at