Seat belt ticket bill clears committee
January 21, 2021
CHEYENNE — A legislative committee advanced a bill Thursday that would make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense in Wyoming, meaning law enforcement officers could pull a driver over solely for not being buckled up.
The proposal, which will now head to the full Legislature for consideration, was promoted by state highway officials as a way to reduce the number of crash-related deaths in Wyoming, which had 147 deaths from car crashes in 2019. Of those deaths, 39% were not wearing their seat belts, Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner told the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs committee Thursday.
“What was interesting about those numbers is that Wyoming residents accounted for about 62% of those fatalities, while the remaining 38% were non-residents,” Reiner said. “Those numbers depict the trend that we see – that historically, Wyoming residents are two to three times more likely to be unrestrained and killed in a crash than nonresidents, because typically nonresidents come from a state where seat belt (use) is required.”
Reiner added there is “no doubt” based on statistics that a primary seat belt law has proven to reduce crash fatalities. The national average for seat belt use hovers around 91%, Reiner said, while Wyoming’s usage rate has been “significantly lower” and even dipped last year.
During the meeting, Wyoming Highway Patrol Col. Kebin Haller pointed to an annual WYDOT study that showed 86.3% of Wyoming residents were buckled up in 2018. However, in 2019, that study found the usage rate had dropped to 78.3%.
A primary seat belt law, Haller said, would also better prepare the state’s residents for the deadliest types of crashes: rollovers.
“Whenever we talk about rollovers and the potential of an ejection, when we talk about running into fixed objects or multiple vehicles with head-ons, having that restraint on and not colliding with the steering wheel and causing internal damage (or) being ejected from that vehicle increases your chances of surviving that particular crash,” Haller said.
The proposal had the backing of the Wyoming Public Health Association and the Wyoming Trucking Association, as well as a handful of national highway safety organizations. Sheila Foertsch, representing the Wyoming Trucking Association, noted many companies across the state require their employees to wear a seat belt when inside a company vehicle, but those requirements only go so far.
“Those policies are wonderful. However, there’s also a personal choice involved with those employees when they’re not on the company premises, and so that’s what we’re dealing with when we’re talking about a primary seat belt law,” Foertsch said. “It’s just that added incentive for them to do what’s right, to take that responsibility and wear their seat belt.”
Support for the bill was not unanimous among those who testified. Ken Hamilton, executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, said while his members understand the importance of seat belts, they feel the use of one should be left to individual decision-making.
“I think it comes down to the issue of whether it should be a government-mandated type of thing,” Hamilton told the committee.
The bill would also increase the penalties for those found not wearing their seat belts from $25 to $100, and it adds a provisional penalty on the driver of $200 for each passenger under the age of 12 that isn’t wearing a seat belt. Currently, such penalties only apply when a driver is pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, and found to not be wearing their seat belt.
Ultimately, the committee advanced the legislation by a 3-1 vote, with only new Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, in opposition.