A state Senate study committee looking at expanding Georgia’s seat belt law to also include backseat passengers wraps up a series of hearings before the new legislative session begins.
Committee members heard from numerous experts over the last few months including Montrae Waiters, spokeswoman for AAA, The Auto Club Group.
“More people die in motor vehicles crashes in Georgia from being unbuckled than any other contributing crash factor including drunk driving, distracted driving or speeding,” she told the committee.
Dana Thompson with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta says there are many reasons to expand the law which currently only requires front-seat passengers and children in the backseat to be buckled.
“Children model adults’ behavior and we feel like it keeps everybody safer. Also, in the event of a crash, it keeps everyone safer as well without leading to projectile situations,” she says.
The seat belt law has seen many changes since it was first passed in Georgia in 1988 when only front-seat occupants were required to wear them. Those in pickup trucks were exempted in 1990. In 1993, all minors riding in vehicles were required to be belted. And in 1996, not wearing your seat belt became a primary violation where an officer could pull over a driver and write a citation. In 2010, the exemption for seat beat use in pickups was eliminated.
Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), who chairs the committee, says while he supports expanding the law once again, not all the members on the committee do.
“I realize there is a concern from some for personal liberty and freedom—being told what they can and cannot do in a car, and I understand that perfectly,” he says.
But Albers says for those who don’t wear one, the burden falls on others.
“If that person in the backseat or frontseat is not wearing their seat belt and they are in a major crash, they are then costing our society a significant amount of time from their health care expenses to the first responders that have to show up,” he says.
While most of the members seem to agree with the change, Albers says the committee is unanimous when it comes to more education on seat belt usage.
“We all believe we have a lot more public service announcements, more training, and other things for people to wear their seat belts even in the front seat,” he says.
The committee will now put together its final report to be presented by December 1, a month before the next legislative session begins.