Originally created 02/04/05

Seat belt law widens scope



Georgia and South Carolina are buckling down on buckling up.

Earlier this week the South Carolina Senate passed a tougher seat belt law that will allow police to stop adult drivers who are not wearing one. Similar legislation has found support in the state House.

Transportation Committee Chairman Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, said he was glad the Senate finally got to vote on the bill. "I think we did the will of the people," Mr. Ryberg said.

Not to be outdone, a lawmaker in Georgia - already considered to have one of the nation's toughest seat belt laws - is looking to tighten up the regulations when it comes to pickups.

State Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Ball Ground, says it's not right that Georgia remains the last state exempting pickup passengers from the seat belt requirement.

"This simply brings parity to all drivers and vehicles on the road," he said, calling the exemption "archaic."

If passed, the change is projected to provide an additional $27 million of federal funding and to save $350 million in accident costs and 80 lives.

When safety belt legislation was first enacted in Georgia during the 1960s, pickups were used solely on farms, with the belief that farmers had to be able to easily get out of their trucks for labor. Mr. Hill said it was natural then for pickups to be seen in a separate category.

Times have changed, though, and pickups are no longer restricted to rural areas.

"In most instances the pickup is nothing more than a car with a hole in the back. ... It's used as a passenger vehicle," he said. " If it's being treated like that, it should be regulated like that too."

The way Georgia law reads, a driver cruising down the street in a Ford F150 is not obligated to buckle up, while the driver of a Ford Excursion is.

This makes absolutely no sense to Mr. Hill or to Dave Colmans, a spokesman for the Georgia Insurance Information Service.

"Georgia has one of the highest rates of seat belt usage anywhere," Mr. Colmans said "But when you're not buckled in, you can easily get ejected."

Plus, when truck-driving parents don't fasten their seat belts, their children latch onto this bad habit, he said.

Lee Anderson, a Columbia County commissioner and farmer, said the only objection to the bill might come from farmers intending to use pickups on their properties.

To that, Rep. Hill said there will be an exemption for agricultural purposes.

Pete Allen, a Columbia County farmer, said he can see why children should be required to use seat belts but that the government should not be able to regulate whether he wears one in his pickup.

"Columbia County has grown, but it doesn't have the volume of traffic that Richmond or other counties do, so there's not always a need."

The bill has been assigned to the Motor Vehicle Committee, and if it passes the House, it will move on to the Senate.

The Impact:

If the bill passes through the Georgia General Assembly, it will mean that all pickup drivers, except those on farms, will be required to wear seat belts at all times. Additionally, the move would translate to an added $27 million in federal funding.