Time for failing to wear a seatbelt to be a primary offense

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Always trend-setters, the Italians had an unusual taste in fashion a number of years ago.

Shirts with a black stripe across the front, extending from the left shoulder to the right hip, were a hot seller.

That’s because the polizia were enforcing one of the world’s first mandatory seat belt laws. Scofflaws could risk their lives and escape detection by purchasing one of the above-mentioned shirts.

There might be a market for similar fashion if “primary offense” status is applied in Nebraska, but so far, that hasn’t happened.

State Sen. Robert Hilkeman of Omaha has been frustrated with his attempt to do so. His bill to impose a $25 fine for each person not wearing a seat belt has been stalled in committee.

He plans to amend it to make back-seat passengers a secondary offense, in hopes that would make it palatable to more lawmakers.

Nebraska is one of only 16 states that don’t allow officers to stop drivers who aren’t wearing restraints; tickets can be issued only after a stop for another reason.

We probably know people who refuse to buckle up, citing anecdotes where someone was trapped in a sinking car by a seat belt, or someone escaped injury or death only because they weren’t strapped in.

Such instances do exist, rarely, but the odds of being fatally injured in a collision are much greater.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among drivers and front-seat passengers, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45%, and cut the risk of serious injury by 50%.

Seat belts prevent drivers and passengers from being ejected during a crash. People not wearing a seat belt are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash.

Nebraskans are giving their lives to prove the statistics.

As of Dec. 27, 249 people had died on Nebraska roads, 9% above average for the years 2014-18, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Over that period, 69.3% of those killed in passenger vehicle crashes were not wearing a seat belt, 25% higher than the national average over the same time.

State data shows that 230 people died in crashes in 2018. The 2019 fatality total was the most since 2007, when 256 people died on the state's road

The story cited a crash last month, when four people in a Lincoln family, age 4-19, were killed on an icy stretch of I-80 between Lincoln and Omaha. None were wearing seatbelts, according to the Nebraska State Patrol.

None of us want to give up personal freedoms like choosing not to wear a seatbelt or motorcycle helmet, but society pays the bill when we are unnecessarily killed or injured. That comes in the form of lost productivity or medical expenses paid by health insurance customers and taxpayers, or the grief of our friends and family.

Voluntary “Click it or Ticket” campaigns and current laws don’t go far enough. It’s time to make not wearing a seatbelt a primary offense in Nebraska.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: