Proposed Missouri legislation would increase seat belt fines

close up picture of a seat beltA Missouri senator has proposed a new law that would increase the fine for motorists who don't buckle up. According to the Jefferson City News Tribune, Sen. Joe Keaveny's bill would raise the seat belt fine from $10 to $50. Sen. Keaveny hopes that raising the fine will encourage more motorists - especially teenagers - to wear their belts regularly, and thereby reduce car accident injuries throughout the state. "If we could induce them to put their seatbelts on, I think we'd save a lot of heartache in this state," Sen Keaveny said.

Seat belt use in Missouri: The facts

• A Missouri driver who fails to buckle up is 42 times more likely to be killed in a crash than a driver who is wearing a seat belt.

• The Highway Patrol reports that seven out of 10 Missourians who died in 2011 car accidents were not wearing a seat belt. Of Missourians who were involved in 2011 accidents and escaped injury, 97.5% were properly buckled up.

• Nationwide, the seat belt usage rate is about 85%. Missouri's seat belt usage rate is 79%, and our state ranks within the bottom 10 in the nation for seat belt use.

• Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that seat belts reduce serious injuries and fatalities in crashes by 50%.

Why don't more Missourians buckle up?

Here are a few of the most common excuses drivers give for not wearing a seat belt:

I don't like wearing my seat belt because it's uncomfortable. If your seat belt feels confining, it's probably because you're not in the habit of wearing it regularly. Drivers who routinely wear their belts normally don't experience discomfort. And, as safety advocates point out, "the serious discomfort and inconvenience of motor vehicle crash injury in no way compares to the imaginary discomfort or the inconvenience you may think you feel wearing a belt the first few times."

My vehicle has air bags, so I don't need to wear a seat belt. Air bags and seat belts should be used together to provide optimum protection. Air bags can be extremely important in frontal crashes, but front seat occupants can slide under them if seat belts aren't also used. In addition, air bags likely won't provide any protection in a rear end collision or rollover accidents, but seat belts can be life-saving under these circumstances.

I don't want to be trapped in my vehicle if an auto accident causes a fire or submerges my vehicle in water. First, only about ½ of 1% of all crashes involve fire or water. And second, if you do find yourself in a burning or sinking vehicle, it's paramount that you remain conscious. If you're not buckled up, you may be knocked unconscious (or severely injured), which can hinder your ability to get to safety.

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