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Ohio bill to pull over drivers who fail to buckle up gets hearing, but faces bumpy road ahead

A woman fastens her seat belt
A woman fastens her seat belt

A Republican state representative who has also served in the Ohio Highway Patrol told a House committee earlier today he thinks Ohio’s seat belt law needs to be strengthened. It's a proposal some others in his party oppose.

House Bill 536, sponsored by Reps. Jon Cross (R-Findlay) and Kevin Miller (R-Newark), would make failure by a driver to wear a seat belt or properly restrain a child in their vehicle a primary offense. Right now, officers can’t pull over drivers only for not wearing a seat belt.

Miller said that needs to change. As a state trooper, he notified families of people who died as a result of crashes. And Miller said he always hated being asked about seat belt usage when doing that.

“I dreaded that question in the case of unrestrained victims because I knew the next question was coming and it was “do you believe they would they would have survived if they were belted in?” Miller said. "And in far too many cases, that answer was yes."

The bill, backed by Gov. Mike DeWine, faces an uphill challenge.

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said many of his fellow Republicans think it could infringe on individual freedom. Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) is one of the GOP lawmakers who question the need for this bill, especially since many cars already prompt drivers to buckle up.
“So why are we talking about this unless people want to hear beep, beep, beep, beep, beep incessantly as they drive down the road. I mean it just seems like you are closing the barn door after the horse is gone because technology has already solved this problem," Seitz said.

Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) also expressed concern that seat belt usage could make it easier for Black Ohioans to be disproportionately stopped by law enforcement officials.

A survey by the Ohio Department of Public Safety last year showed seat belt use in Ohio has dropped to its lowest level since 2005. The Ohio Department of Transportation reported in April that data shows an 8.6% drop in distracted driving since last year's law making texting and phone use by drivers a primary offense.

The bill has no cosponsors.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.