House, Senate approve increase in fines for not wearing a seat belt

The House and Senate Wednesday both approved legislation that will increase the fine for not wearing a seat belt while riding Tennessee roads.

From Richard Locker:
The fine for first-time violators of the law increases from the current $10 to $25, and for 16- and 17-year-old drivers who violate law from $20 to $25. The fine for second-time and subsequent offenders ages 18 and up moves from $20 to $50.

The bill doesn’t change current law provisions that say safety-belt violations are not subject to court costs nor points assessed by the state against their driving records.

“Studies show that every $10 increase in fines increases seat belt usage by 7 percent,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, the Senate sponsor. “Washington state and Oregon have the highest fines for seat belt violations in the country, at $100. This bill is not about raising revenue; it’s about saving lives.”

The bill won a 22-10 Senate vote and 69-22 House vote.

Note: The bill (SB177) was pushed by the Haslam administration with Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Highway Patrol Commander Tracy Trott as lead spokesmen. The Governor’s Highway Safety Commission had laid plans in advance for a PR campaign to promote seat belt use, citing the increased penalties, pending passage.

“This bill is not about raising revenue; it’s about saving lives,” said House sponsor Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, during House floor debate (echoing Ketron).

Similar bills have repeatedly failed in the past, including a Haslam administration effort last year. Opponents say the bill amounts to a governmental effort to dictate personal behavior.

“I don’t believe in government overreach into personal lives,” said Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown, during floor debate.

Ketron said that research shows every $10 increase in seat belt penalties increases compliance with seat belt laws by 7.4 percent and the bill should thus increase Tennessee’s compliance rate — 87.7 percent, according to 2013 data — into the 95 percent range that the Department of Safety has as a goal.

Gibbons and