Senate File 2012 advanced out of subcommittee with 3-0 margin on Wednesday, though some kinks need to be worked out. The bill would require all passengers in a motor vehicle to wear a seat belt regardless of if they are in the front or back.
“Rep. Megan Jones and I were contacted by a gentleman who works either as an EMT or in an emergency room department,” said Sen. Zach Whiting, the bill’s sponsor. “He’s seen a lot of instances where backseat passengers during collisions have been ejected forward and struck passengers in the front seat. There are all kinds of injuries that go along with that, but also potential for secondary accidents. He brought that issue to our attention.”
Vehicles that are not required to be equipped with seat belts would be exempt, as would vehicles that have people frequently getting in and out. There’s also an exception for vehicles that are constantly moving but do not exceed 25 miles an hour. Those in the back of an emergency vehicle would also be excluded.
Whiting said there was an interesting discussion with the ACLU as well as the county sheriffs and attorneys on whether or not it should be a primary or secondary offense.
“As I understand it, it currently is a primary offense,” Whiting said. “This bill just adds backseat passengers. The ACLU had some concerns that it would be used as a pretext for an officer to stop a vehicle just by virtue of somebody in the backseat not being buckled in. The county sheriff and county attorney folks identified that might actually be a good reason for somebody to stop.”
No lobbying group has registered against the bill. Those in support include Blank Children’s Hospital, Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, Iowa Peace Officers Association and Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association.
One of the details that could still be worked out is who is cited for not wearing the seatbelt.
“If you’re over 14 and not disabled, meaning you can put your own seatbelt on, I think that person could be cited instead of the driver,” Whiting said. “But if they’re under 14, then probably the responsible adult driving could be cited.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 37,133 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017. Forty-seven percent of those killed were not wearing seat belts.
“The liberty side of me says, well, if you’re not wearing your seatbelt you’re not hurting anybody else buy yourself, but as we’re seeing, you could potentially be hurting other people and causing chain reactions down the road,” Whiting said. “It’s sad when we have to introduce bills in the legislature on these things which we would hope would otherwise be common sense. But, when so many people are unnecessarily dying, whether by laziness or whatever you want to call it — just not putting a seatbelt on — it’s a lot of senseless deaths.”