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Our Opinion: A renewed call for primary seat belt law

Our Opinion: A renewed call for primary seat belt law

News Tribune Editorial

August 13th, 2017 by News Tribune in Opinion

A renewed call for primary seat belt law

A decade ago, we editorialized on this page for a primary seat belt law.

As a rule, we said, we resist government intrusion in individual decisions. For every rule, however, there is an exception, and a primary seat belt law would save lives.

Now, 10 years later, Missouri still doesn't have such a law and is one of 11 states to receive an "F" grade in overall safety in the National Safety Council's most recent report. In road safety, specifically, the state scored a 29 percent, indicating Missouri has failed to have at least two indicators that illustrate it is trying to deter preventable injuries and deaths based on the NSC's priorities.

The report analyzed aspects of road, home, and community and workplace safety across the state. The indicator that was the most heavily weighted in the report was whether the state has a primary seatbelt law in place.

Missouri now has a secondary seat belt law. Under the secondary law, officers can't stop a motorist for not wearing a seat belt, but can issue a citation for failing to wear a seat belt if the motorist was stopped for a separate traffic violation.

Under a primary law, officers could ticket motorists for failing to wear a seat belt.

In 2015, there were 256 drivers and 89 passengers who suffered fatal injuries when a safety device was not used, compared to 166 drivers and 49 passengers who died even though they were buckled up, according to data reported by Missouri Highway Patrol.

In Jefferson City, a 2015 Highway Patrol report also showed 49 people being injured and two killed when no safety device was used.

In addition to statistics, we continue to see anecdotal evidence. Of the wreck reports we run in the paper, the ones with serious injuries/fatalities more often are the ones with unbuckled drivers/passengers.

Those who survive often face long-term recoveries subsidized either by higher insurance premiums for all or by your tax dollars through Medicaid. The saving of lives and tax money warrants the small government intrusion of a primary seat belt law.

In the past, the idea has fallen to the argument that adults have personal responsibility and the government has no business getting into people's personal business.

But safety is everybody's business — and helping save lives also helps us all save money.

When state lawmakers reconvene in January, we urge them to consider a primary seat belt law for Missouri.