New seat belt law set to take effect in Florida

06/10/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

A new law that goes into effect at the end of the month will allow law enforcement officers in Florida to pull over and ticket a driver, and any front seat passengers, for not wearing a seatbelt.

As part of their “Operation Belt$ or Else” campaign, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Favors handed out a flyer and verbal warnings to drivers at the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Waters Avenue in Tampa this morning.

“The information basically informs of the change in the seat belt law, letting you know it’s now a primary stop, so we don’t have to stop you for another reason. It also informs you that the seat belt itself is out here to save lives, not hurt people or hinder you from driving or enjoying your life. It’s just here as a tool to make sure that you get from point A to point B as safely as possible.”

While cars were stopped in the left turn lanes of northbound Dale Mabry, Deputy Favors looked for people who were not wearing safety belts. A woman who wished to remain anonymous said she was not aware of the new law as Deputy Favors handed her a pamphlet. “I think it’s a good idea. My car yells at me so I have to buckle.”

As Deputy Favors walked along the narrow concrete median scanning for un-belted passengers and drivers, he said the response by motorists has been “very positive: the ones that I found in violation already – most of them were aware of it, they just had different reasons: they forgot or they just got in the car or they haven’t had time to put it on. But for the most of it, the general public is responding to it greatly.”

According to the pamphlet from the Sheriff’s Office, “Since 2004 in Hillsborough County: More than 160 people chose NOT to wear a seat belt and died in crashes.”

When the new law takes effect on June 30th, anyone not wearing a seat belt in the front seat will be hit with a thirty dollar fine, plus additional fees depending on the county. In Hillsborough, the total fee will be $101.

On Wednesday morning, Deputy Favors gave a warning to a driver who gave only her first name, Melissa. "I saw him, and I put my seat belt on too late."

Denise from Tampa was also not wearing her safety belt during Deputy Favors’ patrol. “I think it’s a good law. That way people can be safe when they’re driving. [A $101 fine for not wearing a seat belt is] crazy because not everyone has jobs right now and stuff like that, so I think it’s a good choice that they wear their seat belt.”

But not everyone likes the new seat belt law, including this man who, after he was given a warning, asked to remain anonymous. “They shouldn’t do it, but it’s the law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida opposed the seat belt bill during the legislative session. But it passed and was signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist in May.

Howard Simon is executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “Do seat belts save lives? Of course they do.”

According to Simon, expanding the authority of police to give them more grounds to pull people over could lead to racial profiling “a common feature of police departments all over the country.”

Simon suggests there are other ways to address the problem. For example, rates of smoking have been reduced through education campaigns rather than by having police ticket smokers.

“The last thing that we need is more basis for police to stop citizens on the road. … Then basically the search of everybody in the car and the car itself becomes permissible.”

The Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law is named in the memory of two girls who where not wearing seat belts when they were killed in accidents.

By passing the safety belt law, Florida becomes eligible for over $35 million in federal transportation safety funds.

Sheriff’s pamphlet on seat belt law changes

ACLU of Florida

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