Washington’s seat belt laws won’t be changing this year.
The city council voted 4-3 to table for at least one year a proposed ordinance that would make not wearing a seat belt a primary violation. Councilmen Walt Meyer, Steve Sullentrup, Jeff Patke and Mark Hidritch voted in favor of tabling the issue while Jeff Mohesky, Joe Holtmeier and Greg Skornia voted no during Monday’s administration/operations meeting.
The proposed law change would make it legal for police to pull over drivers solely for not wearing a seat belt. Currently not wearing a seat belt is a secondary violation. A driver can only be cited if pulled over for another reason.
At the May administration meeting, Police Chief Ken Hahn was asked to provide some statistics about why the change was needed. On Monday night he came back with some numbers.
Hahn said that as of June 8, there have been 299 fatal crashes in the state and 64 were unbuckled. He said in 2012 Missouri ranked in the top 5 for unrestrained crashes.
In Washington, Hahn said between 2008 and 2013 there was one fatal crash and 11 serious crashes involving at least one unbelted driver.
The numbers in all of Franklin County were higher. Between 2008 and 2013, there were 64 fatal and 236 serious crashes involving at least one person not wearing a seat belt.
“How many people could we save if we had that primary seat belt law?” Hahn asked.
Hahn said a recent court ruling makes it possible for cities to change seat belt violations from a secondary violation to a primary violation. Since that ruling has come down, Hahn said 40 cities in the state have changed the law.
“It’s only safety related,” Hahn said. “That’s all we’re looking at. It’s proven that it saves lives.”
Sullentrup asked Hahn if he had any data on crashes where the speed limit is 30 and under. Hahn said he didn’t have that data.
“I’ve asked people what they think and most people come up with the same thing I just asked,” Sullentrup said. “If you’re driving 30 or 20 in the city limits, they don’t think it’s the thing to do to wear a seat belt.”
Patke said he was conflicted on the issue. He said drivers should wear seat belts on the highway, but wasn’t sure it was a problem in the city.
“I’ve had constituents call me and say, ‘Do we really need this?’ ” Patke said. “When you see the slides here and that we’re trying to save lives, I understand that ... I guess my thing is, if someone is driving down Third Street, it’s not an issue.”
Hahn again stressed the change isn’t about writing more tickets.
“If it saves one life, it’s a success,” Hahn said.
Meyer said the people he has spoken to don’t want the change.
“People are getting upset at all the regulations — that’s all you ever hear is thousands of regulations being added yearly at the federal level,” Meyer said. “They’re sick and tired of it. All I’ve heard is negative. I haven’t heard one person say this is a good idea.”
Meyer said if the city really wants to make the roads safer, it should outlaw texting.
“It would be a lot more sensible to come up with a texting law or something like that,” he said.
Sullentrup proposed tabling the issue. Meyer said it would be nice to gather some data from the other cities that have changed their laws.
“We’ll live with whatever decision you give us,” Hahn said.
The council agreed to table the issue for one year.
Hahn agreed to talk with City Attorney Mark Piontek about potentially changing the texting law.