Unlike in most states – including neighboring Kansas, Iowa and Illinois – failure to wear a seat belt in Missouri is a “secondary” rather than a primary offense.
The result is that people are dying.
In the case of a primary offense, a law enforcer who sees a person is not wearing a seat belt can pull over and ticket that driver. The threat of being ticketed is a powerful motivator for drivers to act to save their own lives and the lives of their passengers by wearing the belt.
But failure to wear a seat belt in this state is a meaningless secondary offense. As a result, a driver cannot be pulled over for failing to wear a seat belt alone.
A seat belt ticket may be issued only if a driver is pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding. The fine for speeding can be stiff, but the fine for a secondary offense is a joke, just $10, about the cost of one person’s lunch at a clown restaurant.
Missouri law ignores that wrecks cause ejections, serious injuries and deaths on roads across this state. Seat belts help reduce such circumstances. National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration information states the national rate for seat belt use stood at 89.6 percent, with an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017.
Other states get the one-on-one relationship between seat belt use and lives saved. But Missouri lawmakers are slow learners – perhaps a result of an education system that rated a grade of “C” in Education Week’s “Quality Counts Grading Survey” released Sept. 3.
As evidence of either slow learning or a stubborn determination by lawmakers not to learn at all, on Jan 2, 1985, a coalition of 60 corporations and other organizations in the state announced support to create a mandatory state seat belt law. Lawmakers shurgged. Paraphrasing from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” they took the position, “Laws? We don’t need no stinkin’ laws.”
Nearly 35 years later, they still are not listening.
The main risk that accompanies failure to wear a seat belt for the offender is not a fine that would matter to them financially. The primary risks are death, potentially lifelong injuries and depriving loved ones of companionship.
In 1985, an editorial writer opposed even to life-saving seat belt regulations suggested naively, “An education program to alert people to the dangers of not wearing seat belts, or incentives established for doing so, might get effective results. If indeed it did, it would be far better than mandating (seat belt) use by law.”
Education has taken place, ad nauseam, over the more than three decades since that newspaper’s Pollyanna editor published those feeble lines of wishful thinking. People still die for failing to wear seat belts. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration stated 2,549 people died in 2017 because they did not wear seat belts.
By no reasonable measure is death “far better than mandating (seat belt) use by law.”
Failing to wear seat belts should be a primary offense in Missouri.
Scofflaws should be stopped and fined for failure to obey the law.
Another editorial writer, many years from now, after hundreds more Missourians have lost their lives for failing to wear seat belts, may again plead in the name of reason for the enactment of a primary seat belt law in this state.
Missouri lawmakers, as they have for years, may ignore that plea. Other than cemetery proprietors, who are not asking for more business, who is served by such disregard for human life?