Bill targets unbuckled adults on Florida's roads

Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 11:10 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Police could pull over any Florida driver spotted not wearing a seat belt under a bill unanimously approved Wednesday by a state House committee.

Currently, police can only ticket adult drivers for not wearing seat belts if they are pulled over for something else.

Police and safety groups have tried for years to change that, saying if police could pull over drivers who aren't buckled up it would save hundreds of lives. But they've been stymied again and again by skeptics with concerns about racial profiling and a distaste for Big Brother — giving the state yet another reason to stop people.

The push for what's known as "primary seat belt enforcement" had been led by former Rep. Irv Slosberg, whose daughter Dori was killed in a crash while not wearing a seat belt. The best he was able to get was a compromise bill passed last year that allows police to pull over young drivers — those police think are under 18 — who aren't buckled up.

Slosberg, a Democrat, left the Legislature last year, but the effort for full primary enforcement has been taken up by Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City.

The bill (HB 27), now named the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law, was approved unanimously Wednesday by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee with little debate.

Marchetti, a 16-year-old who lived in Glorioso's Tampa-area district, died in a crash last year when she was thrown from a car in which she was a passenger.

"If she'd been strapped in, she'd be fine today," Glorioso said.

Many black caucus members once opposed the bill, but some have gradually changed their minds, including one who noted that more black children have been killed by car crashes than racial profiling.

Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Jacksonville, who is black, said state law already requires police agencies to adopt policies banning racial profiling.

Some conservative rural lawmakers still express concerns about government getting more intrusive.

Rep. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, voted for the bill but said it seemed to him like another erosion of liberty.

"I've just got a problem with that," said Dean, a former Citrus County sheriff.

The Florida Highway Patrol and several other police groups support the bill, as well as the motorists' group AAA, which says it is its top priority.

The measure only has one more committee stop before it can go to the full House. An identical bill (SB 484) is filed in the Senate but hasn't been assigned to any committees.


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