OREGON COUNTY -- Officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) are pushing the passage of Senate Bill 256, the primary seat belt law.
The bill was presented in the Missouri Legislature last session but failed to pass in the last days of the legislative session.
Currently in Missouri, there is a seat belt law on the books that allows law enforcement officers to ticket drivers for not wearing seat belts. It does not allow officers to stop a vehicle when they suspect seat belts are not being used. The passage of the primary seat belt law would permit that.
The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Jon Dolan of District 2 in St. Louis and, according to a representative from his office, should be heard in Senate committee this week.
Statistics from MoDOT show over the last three years (2001-2003) 3,539 people have lost their lives in vehicle crashes in Missouri. Fifty-nine percent, or 2,093, of those people were not wearing seat belts.
Oregon County showed one of the lowest numbers as far as fatalities and disabling injuries due to not wearing seat belts in the 13-county MoDOT South Central District. Only 4 percent of those in serious accidents were not wearing seat belts in Oregon County. In the last four years there were a total of 75 fatality or disabling injury accidents in the county.
This is compared to a 14 percent no seat belt use in Phelps County and 10 percent no seat belt use in Pulaski County.
"Missouri's safety belt use rate remains consistently lower than the national average," said Eddie Grover Bisker, MoDOT information and outreach manager. She said the national average of seat belt use in 2004 was 80 percent compared to Missouri's 76 percent.
"An 11-percent increase in wearing seat belts would save about 90 lives in our state every year. They can also reduce fatalities to front-seat occupants of passenger cars by 45 percent and of light trucks by 60 percent," Bisker said.
Bisker said because Missouri does not have the primary seat belt legislation, the state loses over $17 million in federal highway funds a year.
"Each day there are needless deaths and there are needless disabling injuries. In the current fiscal crisis Missouri faces, the primary seat belt law provides a budget neutral means of directly reducing health care expenditures for the state and, most importantly, saving lives. Passing the primary seat belt law has been identified as the number one thing that can be done to reduce the number of fatalities on our Missouri highways," Bisker said.