Apr 16, 2024 - News

DeWine wants stronger seat belt laws

Illustration of an unfastened seat belt, with the belt replaced with a road

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Gov. Mike DeWine wants to make it easier for police to enforce mandatory seat belt laws for drivers and passengers.

Why it matters: Most of those killed in Ohio car crashes were not wearing seat belts, state data shows, making enforcement a matter of life and death.

  • There have been over 270,000 crashes involving an unbelted occupant since the beginning of 2019.
  • These resulted in 2,667 unbelted fatalities, making up 61% of all crash deaths.

State of play: Under current law, all drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear a seat belt.

  • In the back seat, seat belts are required for passengers between 8-15 years old and optional for those 16 and older.
  • Booster seats are generally required for passengers under 8.
  • Seat belts are required for all passengers if the driver has a learner's permit or probationary driver's license.

Yes, but: Seat belt violations are secondary traffic offenses, meaning law enforcement cannot pull someone over solely to issue citations for not wearing them.

  • Fines are modest $30 for a driver not wearing a seat belt, $20 for a passenger.

Driving the news: DeWine told lawmakers in his recent State of the State address he would soon pitch legislation to make these primary offenses.

  • The governor previously included this change in his 2023 state budget, but lawmakers rejected it.

The other side: Republican legislative leaders are reluctant to make the change, Cleveland.com reports.

  • House Speaker Jason Stephens of Kitts Hill says drivers should be personally responsible for belting up.
  • Senate President Matt Huffman of Lima said one of his concerns over the proposal is the importance of "personal freedom."

The big picture: Two-thirds of states have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants, but Ohio is an exception, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

  • Seventeen of those states have primary laws for back seat occupants as well, including Indiana and Kentucky.

By the numbers: Ohio's seat belt usage rate has noticeably declined in recent years.

  • Around 81% of drivers wore seat belts in 2022, far below the national rate of nearly 92%.
  • This is down from 86% usage in Ohio in 2019.

Between the lines: Because of limited enforcement, Ohio sometimes records more unbelted crashes in a given day than seat belt violations, State Highway Patrol data shows.


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