R.I. Would Gain $3.7 Million By Adopting Primary Seat Belt Law

Rhode Island is eligible for a $3.7 million grant if it strengthens its seat belt law to allow law enforcement officers to stop and issue citations to motorists based solely on a seat belt violation, which is referred to as a primary law. Under Rhode Island’s current law, officers must witness a violation of another traffic law before stopping someone for not buckling up.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed primary enforcement laws. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belt use averages eleven percentage-points higher in states that have primary enforcement laws. Primary laws cover more than 60 percent of the U.S. population.

“As a nation, we have reached a major milestone in achieving 82 percent seat belt use, but most of the states with the highest belt use rates have armed law enforcement officers with the best tool to save lives — a primary seat belt law,” said Phil Haseltine, executive director of the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign of the National Safety Council. “It is our hope that these funds will add that extra incentive, especially at a time when budgets are tight, for Rhode Island legislators to heed the call of law enforcement, the safety community, and most importantly, its citizens, to enact a law that has proven to save lives.”

The surface transportation legislation signed into law by President Bush into law on August 10 provides for the one-time grants equal to 4.75 times a state’s annual highway safety allocation. To be eligible, a state must pass a primary enforcement seat belt law covering all passenger vehicles or, absent a primary enforcement law, achieve seat belt use of 85 percent or greater for two consecutive years. States having primary enforcement laws prior to December 2002 receive smaller one-time grants.

According to Rhode Island’s annual seat belt survey, belt use decreased 1.5 percentage points in 2005 to 74.7 percent.

According to a study conducted by the Campaign in 2003, 33 lives were lost in traffic crashes from 1995-2002 because Rhode Island failed to follow a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to enact a stronger seat belt law.

“It is clear that primary enforcement laws are an effective tool to help convince the minority of motorists who don’t buckle up to wear seat belts more frequently,” Haseltine added.

The Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, a program of the National Safety Council, is a public/private partnership of automotive manufacturers, insurance companies, child safety seat manufacturers, government agencies, health professionals and child health and safety organizations.