Senate approves stiffer seat belt law by one vote

By Jennifer Lassiter
STAR Staff
jlassiter@starhq.com

   A new seat belt law passed by one vote yesterday in the state Senate. If signed, the new law will allow law enforcement officers to pull over any adults they see solely for not wearing a seat belt. The legislation will make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense.
   Currently, the law is a secondary offense, meaning that if you are pulled over for another offense and you are not wearing your seat belt, you will be ticketed for violating the seat belt law.
   Sen. Rusty Crowe voted against the new legislation. "I felt that allowing this as a primary offense is an infringement upon our liberty and is bad policy for Carter County and our entire state," said Crowe.
   Under the current law there is a fine of $10 for the first offense and $20 for the following offenses. The new bill will set violation fines to at least $50 but no more than $100, with $20 of the fine being designated for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
   Tennessee is constantly promoting motorists to wear seat belts through the "Click It or Ticket" program. The program runs several times during the year to make motorists aware of the importance of seat belts. Anyone failing to obey current seat belt laws will be issued a ticket.
   Jerry Hughes, East Tennessee district coordinator of the Governor's Highway Safety Program, said, "We're not concerned about writing tickets. We are concerned about saving lives."
   According to the Tennessee Department of Safety Report, from May 19, 2003 to May 19, 2004 there were approximately 401 fatalities, of which 224 occupants were not wearing a seat belt.
   Gov. Phil Bredesen has recently signed another law affecting Tennessee's seat belt laws. Any child four through eight years old, measuring less than five feet tall, must be in a belt positioning booster seat, in the rear seat, beginning July 1, 2004.