Back-seat riders could be added to state seat-belt law

Legislation is headed to conference committee that would add back-seat passengers to those required to wear seat belts.

Early last week the Mis­sis­sippi House passed HB 539 by an 88-29 margin.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 2724, only requires those under the age of 18 riding in the back seat to wear seat belts.

The legislation, in both chambers, is referred to as “Harlie’s Law,” in memory of Harlie Oswalt, a Potts Camp High School student. She was a back-seat passenger and died in an automobile accident last November.

Current law states that occupants of the front seat, both the driver and passenger, must wear seat belts.

Rep. Steve Massengill, of Hickory Flat, amended the Senate bill to require all passengers in the back seat, regardless of age, to buckle up.

“I would like to get the requirement on everybody,” Massengill said, “but if not, at least 21 and under.

“We will see how it goes the next couple of weeks in conference.

“We’re not changing anything about the original law – just trying to add back-seat passengers.”

He said it’s proven that the majority of the time seat belts save lives, and everyone in the car should be required to wear them.

“It’s a safety issue,” Massengill said. “I’ve talked to the highway patrolmen, and they’re all for it.”

Sen. Bill Stone of Holly Springs is also an avid proponent of “Har­lie’s Law.” He said he thinks the only way it will make it through the Senate is with the restriction for only ages 18 and under.

“That language is the only thing to be worked out – ages 18 and under or everybody,” Stone said.

“I do not have strong feelings one way or the other. I think it should definitely be those under 18, but I have no opposition to making it for everybody.”

He said one of the Senate objections he has heard are that it gives law enforcement another probable cause to make a vehicle stop.

Under current law, the requirement that front seat occupants wear a seat belt is primary law, meaning law enforcement can stop a vehicle when the seat belt is not being worn by those in the front seat. This would also make it a primary law for back-seat passengers to wear seat belts – either certain ages or everyone.

“I think the bill will make it through, but in the end, I think it will be 18 and under,” Stone said.

“I know one thing – if it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

If passed, the law would take effect July 1.

Holly Springs South Reporter

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