If you weren’t in the habit of buckling up before starting the car, you should start the routine. Failing to wear a seat belt will soon be a primary offense in West Virginia.
The legislature approved the bill this session, and it takes effect 90 days after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signs the measure. But Capt. Joe White of the state police said this isn’t a grand change in the law, but rather a change in enforcement.
“It was against the law not to wear your seat belt to begin with,” said White. “The legislature saw it was in the best interest to make this a primary offense, meaning we can pull you over. But we think making it a primary offense will go a long way to making people who weren’t wearing their seat belts to now put them on.”
The seat-belt violation will carry a $25 fine, though a ticket won’t add points to the driver’s record.
The goal, according to White and lawmakers who supported the bill, is public safety. He said the state police’s initial response to the new law will be one of public relations and gentle enforcement.
“I would say we are going to use a lot of discretion early on with issuing citations,” White said. “I think we’ll take the approach of getting the word out and getting the message out that it’s now a primary offense.”
White said statistics show a lower rate of crash fatalities for states in which seat-belt usage is a primary requirement. He said the heightened enforcement should have a similar impact in West Virginia.
“Thirty-two other states have a primary seat-belt law on the books,” said White. “The data shows there’s a significant decrease in traffic fatalities where those laws were implemented.”