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A Times Editorial

Seat belt law long overdue

Finally in Florida, buckling up is a priority. Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday wisely signed the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law, closing a loophole in the state's 23-year-old law that made seat belt enforcement an afterthought.

Starting June 30, law enforcement can stop motorists solely for failing to buckle up. Current law requires officers to witness another infraction before pulling a car over. The distinction placed personal choice above the public interest in preventing death and injury. There were also concerns officers would use primary enforcement to harass minority motorists. Indeed, law enforcement will need to be held accountable for their individual decisions. But the fact remains that Florida's seat belt use stands at 79 percent and ranks 35th in the country.

The new law should improve compliance, though it comes too late for the law's namesakes, two unbuckled teenagers who died in separate car accidents. Slosberg was from Boca Raton; Marchetti from Brandon. Their parents became poignant advocates for change in Tallahassee. But underplayed Wednesday was the fact that the Legislature — which had resisted primary enforcement for decades — had to change the law or the state would lose a $35.5 million federal grant.

So it took an economic threat to get the Legislature to do the right thing. But the end result is what matters. "We're going to save lives," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City. And that's good public policy.

Seat belt law long overdue 05/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 6:49pm]
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