The West Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Wednesday that would allow police officers to pull over drivers specifically for not wearing a seat belt.
The measure passed by a 55 to 44 margin following lengthy debate from the House floor.
Right now officers can only pull over someone who is not wearing a seat belt if the person is also speeding, driving erratically or committing some other “primary” offense. The bill lets officers target seat belts if they so choose, with the $25 fine remaining the same. A driver would not receive points on his or her license for not wearing the seat belt.
Debate was expected: leading up to the vote, both Republicans and Democrats thought the measure was a coin flip. The vote was not partisan, with delegates from both sides of the isle voting for and against the bill.
Instead, the argument center on personal liberty versus safety.
Those who spoke against the bill said the measure infringed on someone’s right to choose, regardless of whether the decision was intelligent. Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said a seat belt saved his life when he was in a car accident years ago, but he doesn’t think the law should force anyone to wear one.
“Mountaineers always free, until a politician decides that you’re not,” said Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, in voicing his concerns on the bill.
Bill supporters said the idea of infringing on liberty was a little short sighted. Delegate Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said laws already infringe on a person’s rights when it comes to guns or certain types of speech. Not wearing a seat belt does not only affect the person who makes that decision, Miley said.
“Your freedom is going to cost me money because my health insurance rates are going to go up,” Miley said.
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, was the lone sponsor of the House bill. After the vote she said she expected the bill to pass–she had hoped for a few more votes–and credited the success to increased lobbying efforts from delegates and supporters.
The measure moves to the Senate, which has repeatedly approved the measure. Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, has continued to introduce the measure and hoped this would be the year for the bill to become law.