Northwest Missourian: Senate proposes new bills for driving safety

Four new bills governing seat belt use, texting while driving and helmet requirements for motorcyclists prompted debate in a Missouri Senate committee.

Texting while driving is only forbidden for commercial drivers and people younger than 22. Two of the bills would ban texting while driving for everyone. One of the bills is sponsored by Senator David Pearce, the other by Senator Jill Schupp.

A legislation from Sen. Jason Holsman would allow motorcycle riders who are at least 21 and have health insurance to ride without a helmet. They must also have been licensed for two years or have completed a safety class.

Another proposal by Schupp would require everyone in a car to wear a seat belt, no matter the age. Law states adults in the backseat are exempt from seat belt requirements. It would also allow police to stop drivers solely for suspicion of not wearing a seat belt.

Missouri’s rate of seatbelt use was about 79 percent and trending downward in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while the national usage rate was remaining stable around 87 percent.

The Missouri Highway Patrol also argues that one half of those killed in traffic fatalities would not have died had they worn seat belts. In the past year, 603 people in Missouri died in traffic accidents.

Reactions to the proposal have been fairly positive.

“It’s okay, but I feel like it’s a time regulation. I mean how will the cops even check if everyone is wearing their seatbelt? But if it benefits everyone’s safety then it’s a good thing.” senior Olivia Morris said.

Parents seem to be onboard with the idea since kids under the age of 22 are required to wear a seatbelt at all times.

“My moral feeling, everyone should be legally required to restrain their kids or anyone in the car. It’s for safety. But if you’re 40 years old and wanna fly through a windshield that’s their choice.” Professor Chris Strelluf said.

Schupp had a similar piece of legislation. She also offered a bill that would change Missouri’s law on seat belts to a primary seatbelt law.

Primary seatbelt laws allow law enforcement to make traffic stops and write citations specifically for people who fail to wear a seatbelt. A secondary law means that a citation for those not wearing their seatbelt can only accompany another traffic offense like speeding.

Truckers, insurance agents, and even law enforcement also testified in favor of the bill.

However, the bills also raised concerns from some members of the committee on how to balance safety with government intrusion.

Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Washington had significant problems with both pieces of legislation, concerned with how such measures could be enforced, statistics on seatbelt usage and the imposition of new laws on drivers. He did not want law to prompt police officers to pull over more Missourians and instead stressed the need for education and awareness.

Each of the bills still needs a vote to move out of committee and onto the Senate floor. It is not clear if or when those votes will occur.

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