Thursday, February 2, 2006

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

State tightens seat belt use

Our 4-year-old Erin always reminds me to put on my seat belt.

She knows full well when she climbs into any vehicle, buckling up comes first.

And she expects everyone else to follow her example.

If her words, “Daddy, put your seat belt on,” aren’t enough, I have this “buzzer” in my vehicle that constantly annoys me until I buckle up.

It’s really not an annoyance. It’s an important safety feature. And it’s one that could in fact safe my life.

I have a tendency sometimes in town to let it go. Then I catch myself giving in. Thank goodness - statistics show most crashes occur closer to home.

Gov. Haley Barbour announced Monday he will sign the primary seat belt bill sent to his desk last Friday.

Under the legislation, law enforcement officers could stop someone and issue a traffic citation solely because the driver, any front-seat passenger or any child under age 8 anywhere in the vehicle is not buckled in.

Under current law, a person can be issued a ticket for not wearing a seat belt if the driver is pulled over for another offense.

It has been proven time and time again. Seat belts save lives.

I’ve seen it at wreck scenes myself.

One involved my wife Pam several years back. She fell asleep at the wheel and just missed a head-on crash with an oncoming vehicle. The cars side-swiped, landing her in the ditch. Without a fastened seat belt, she could have been thrown from the vehicle, perhaps injured much worse or killed.

The primary seat belt bill passed the 52-member Senate with four dissenting votes.

House Transportation Committee chairman Bill Miles of Fulton, a longtime friend, opted to bring out a House version of the legislation. Then Gray Tollison, Senate Judiciary B chairman from Oxford, decided to pass the House version with no changes.

The final version of the bill comes with a maximum fine of $25 per vehicle.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (in a story written by Bobby Harrison in Saturday’s Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal), a primary seat belt law increases buckling up by 9 to 14 percent, and each 1 percent increase saves 280 lives nationally.

A study by the National Safety Council, estimates that the lack of a primary seat belt law cost 481 Mississippians their lives between 1995 and 2002.

Twenty-eight states, including Mississippi, do not have a primary seat belt law.

There are those who say we don’t need more laws that interfere with people’s personal decisions. They want to choose whether or not they wear a seat belt.

I really understand that point. I remember years ago, when I really didn’t like buckling up, and I often ignored it.

But I’ve changed. Life is too precious, and I truly believe my chances of survival in an accident are much better if I’m wearing my seat belt.

My daughter Emma, who will turn 15 in June, is taking driver’s education this semester. She, too, is reminding the family to buckle up after watching films in class recently about deadly crashes.

The way I see it, if the new bill saves just one life, it’s worth it.

And with my oldest daughter getting her driver’s license soon, my son Andy, who will turn 12 in May, just a few years away from driving, and a 4-year-old constantly reminding Daddy to buckle up, I’ve become an advocate of proper seat belt usage.

Buckle up. It could be a matter of life or death.

By the way, the primary seat belt bill will become law on May 27, the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend.

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