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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Florida Seat Belt Law Set to Take Effect June 30

Sunshine State Looks to Improve Seat Belt Usage Rate

Florida state officials are already beefing up compliance with a new seat belt law that does not go into effect until June 30.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill May 6 that permits law enforcement to pull over a passenger vehicle if officers observe the driver or front seat passenger not wearing their seat belt. It replaces the current law, which allows officers to give tickets for not wearing a seat belt only after pulling over a driver for a separate offense, like speeding or a broken tail light.

Promoting even more seat belt awareness, the state's Click It Or Ticket campaign kicked off on Monday and runs through May 31.

While the two-week safety campaign is in effect, state and local police agencies are carrying out public awareness efforts and workshops to improve seat belt use rates and conduct training on child passenger safety and safety seat installation.

"The proper use of a safety belt is the single most important action one can take to increase the chances of surviving a vehicle crash," said Sgt. Chris Gonzalez, with the Collier County Sheriff's Office Traffic Safety Enforcement Bureau. "The Collier County Sheriff's Office is asking that every driver make certain all front and back seat passengers are properly buckled up. A simple click can be the difference between life and death."

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, at 92 percent, the seat belt compliance rate for Collier County is the highest in the state. In 2008, statewide seat belt usage was 79.1 percent, making it No. 35 in the nation and below the national average of 83 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The five states with the highest of seat belt use rates have primary enforcement laws like the one just passed in Florida.

One Naples resident, Tom Contento, 55, is pleased with the law's passage.

"[My children's] safety is my biggest concern," said Contento. "I think safety is more important [than questions about personal freedom]."

A woman vacationing in Naples said it is a law that works well in her home state of Connecticut, where the seat belt usage rate was 88 percent in 2008.

"I don't have a problem with it being a law," said Lisa Masoud, 45. "They do spot checks every once in a while. It works pretty well. I think one of the reasons they do it is they can be funded by the federal government."

When Florida's new law goes into effect, the state will receive a $35 million federal grant allocated to states with primary enforcement laws. That money can be used to fund road projects.

The lure of that funding helped pass the bill this year after it died in at least seven consecutive earlier sessions. The state House of Representatives approved the bill by a 95-20 vote. It passed in the Senate by 33-4.

Did you know that courses are available to educate drivers on the rules of the road and the latest defensive driving techniques? Try one now!

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