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Buckle up or get pulled over, new Belton ordinance says

Posted: 9:43 PM, Feb 20, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-21 04:19:44Z
Belton Police

BELTON, Mo. — Missouri remains one of just 15 states where law enforcement can't pull you over for not wearing your seat belt. Some cities and counties are taking matters into their own hands to make roads safer.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration , the seat belt usage rate in the state for 2017 was 84 percent, five points lower than the national average.

"I don't know why that is, but it needs to change," said Lt. Dan Davis of the Belton Police Department.

In the battle to buckle up, Belton is the latest city to go into overdrive.

City council passed a new ordinance that will make it a primary offense to not wear a seat belt in the front seat. A ticket will set drivers back anywhere from $10 to $50, but police say this isn't a cash grab.

"We are simply not trying to line our coffers $10 at a time. This is about safety, about keeping people uninjured and alive," Davis said.

The move begs the question, how much of a difference do these laws make?

A 2010 study from NHTSA found primary seat belt laws resulted, on average, in a 10 to 12 percent higher usage rate.

However, the results have been mixed in Kansas, where a primary law was enacted in 2010. Initially the rate of Kansans buckling up went from 81.8 in 2010 to 82.9 percent in 2011. That number dropped to 79.5 percent the next year before climbing again. It currently sits at 82 percent, lower than the rate for Missouri.

In Belton, opinions are mixed on the new ordinance.

"It gives them probable cause just to try to investigate further," said Amanda Bishop, raising civil rights concerns.

Racial profiling is another issue raised in relation to primary laws and ordinances. A NHTSA study examining four states found the percentage of tickets issued to minorities either stayed the same or decreased slightly after the law change.

Other drivers we spoke with in Belton were happy to hear of the new ordinance.

"It'll make safer drivers," reacted Daniel Wickham.

Police are hopeful the change, which goes into effect on March 1, will save lives.

"If that inconvenience of writing somebody a seat belt ticket causes them to put it on, even if they're annoyed about it, and it keeps them alive down the road in a crash, then it's worth it," Davis said.

In February 2018, Missouri Mayors United for Progress prioritized passing a primary safety belt law in the state. At the end of the year, the Missouri Department of Transportation told 41 Action News it would support such legislation.