CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Odds for passage of a mandatory seatbelt bill this session improved markedly Wednesday, when the House Roads and Transportation Committee advanced the House's version of the bill on a 14-9 vote.
"This is a milestone vote," Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said afterward. He noted that in past years, similar bills frequently died in the committee.
As advanced Wednesday, the bill (HB2108) closely resembles a companion bill in the Senate (SB129).
It makes failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense, punishable by a $25 fine. It also eliminates an exemption in the current secondary offense law for adults riding in the rear passenger seats of vehicles.
Like the Senate bill, the bill makes exceptions for individuals who have medical conditions that make it difficult or impossible to use a seatbelt, if they have a certified statement from their physician, as well as an exception for mail carriers.
House Roads and Transportation Chairwoman Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, said she believes the time has come for passage of a primary enforcement seatbelt law, and noted that at least one auto manufacturer is in the process of introducing cars that cannot be started until all passengers are belted.
"The cars are getting smarter than we are," she said. "In five years, there will be no question about whether you will wear a seatbelt."
Bob Tipton, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Program, told the committee that seatbelt usage increases 5 percent to 7 percent in primary offense states. Currently, fewer than 85 percent of West Virginians use seatbelts, he said.
"I think it definitely will increase usage of seatbelts, and I don't think there's any question it will save lives and prevent injuries," he said.
Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, endorsed the legislation, saying it is obviously a life-saving bill.
"If we save one life, it's worth passing this bill," he said.
The bill now goes to House Judiciary Committee. The Senate version is pending in Senate Judiciary.