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Advocate: "Work Needs to be Done to get Our Citizens to Start Buckling Up"

Person fastening seat belt
A bill proposed for the 2020 General Assembly session would require all people in a private car wear seat belts. Currently, Virginia law only requires front seat passengers to buckle up. (Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM) 

Report by VPM News Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza.

A bill proposed for the 2020 General Assembly session would require all people in a private car wear seat belts. Currently, Virginia law only requires front seat passengers to buckle up.

Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax County) proposed the bill (HB16). It would also change this traffic violation from a secondary offense to a primary offense, which means police officers can pull drivers over just for that reason. The penalty would be a $25 fine.

“Seatbelts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017 according to studies, and if everyone buckled, up an additional 2,456 deaths could have been prevented,” Del. Krizek said.

Janet Brooking from Drive Smart Virginia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the safety of the roadways in the state, said her organization supports the bill.

“About 85 percent of Virginia citizens are buckling up and the national average is about 90 percent now, so we’re definitely below the national average, so there’s some work that needs to be done to get our citizens to start buckling up,” Brooking said.

She said it’s important for passengers in the backseat to wear a seat belt, which can be life saving not only for them but also for others in the car.

“Backseat passengers sitting behind the driver are particularly dangerous to that driver and cause numerous fatalities just by striking that driver,” Brooking said.

In the past, similar legislation has been proposed, but didn’t get enough traction. Brooking said previous versions of the legislation have faced push back because of concerns that changing the violation from secondary to primary offense could result in “unequal enforcement.” The bill, she says, has also faced objections along party lines.

“For some legislators, it's been a libertarian issue. They don’t want to legislate inside your vehicle,” Brooking said. Del. Krizek says he hopes things will be different this time around given the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly.

“This is for everybody's safety,” he said. “It’s not just for their safety. If they don’t wanna be safe that’s on them but the other passengers in the car are unsafe if you’re not wearing your seat belt.”

HB16 is one of a number of road safety bills being brought back up by lawmakers in 2020. Another piece of legislation includes banning drivers from using cellphones behind the wheel. The first day of the 2020 General Assembly session in January 8.