Feb. 8, 2004
belt law faces challenges
SC Statehouse Report
8, 2004 - - An argument over mandatory seat belt use may come
to a head soon.
Current law requires people in vehicles to wear seat belts.
But the law isn't "primarily enforceable," which
means police can't stop you just for not wearing a seat belt.
They have to have another reason first.
A bill being filibustered in the state Senate would allow
police to stop and ticket a driver for not wearing a seat
belt without any other violation.
For senators with a libertarian streak, that's where the
rub comes. They believe the proposal is another step down
the road of controlling personal freedoms.
"The safety squads of America think they know how people
should live their lives," said Senate President Pro Tem
Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. "But what's next? Are
we to dictate what food a restaurant can cook? What a person
Proponents of the bill, which passed with a bipartisan 65-41
vote last year in the House, say the measure would give people
an incentive to wear seat belts. And because 70 percent of
South Carolinians already wear seat belts when they drive,
life wouldn't change one iota.
But for the 30 percent who don't wear seat belts, a primary
enforcement law that allows police to issue $25 tickets will
give people an incentive to buckle up, said Sen. Brad Hutto,
"It's the knowledge that they could be pulled over that
will alter their habits," he said.
And that, he added, would save lives. Pointing to an inch-thick
book of statistics, Hutto said making the seat belt law tougher
could save the lives of about 100 children a year. Additionally,
it would boost seat belt usage to about 85 percent of the
population - - just like currently happens in Georgia and
North Carolina, which have similar laws.
South Carolina now has the nation's third highest number
of deaths per 100 million miles, according to the SC Department
of Transportation. Hutto believes the highway fatality rate
would drop significantly with a new seat belt law.
He also said a primary seat belt law also would reduce injuries
at wrecks, which, in turn, would lower health care costs.
In the long run, that would help lower insurance rates and
hospital costs, both of which would benefit families and businesses.
But McConnell and colleagues worry that giving police the
power to stop a vehicle for a seat belt violation will lead
to violations of civil liberties. They worry about a provision
in the new law that doesn't require records of stops to be
kept. They worry about some rural officers abusing the new
tool as a way to stop people to check to see if anything else
was going on. And they worry about it being used as a cover
for racial profiling.
Hutto says the bill's opponents are trying to confuse the
issue with such arguments.
"If an officer really wants to stop somebody, he'll
follow them until he finds them going 56 in a 55 or for failure
to slow down" in a curve, he said. "What you're
almost saying is you don't trust our officers to be fair.
Hutto said the new law wouldn't lead to a surge in seat belt
tickets being used as cash cows for small communities.
"Law enforcement officers have a lot more important
things to do. If they're going to make a killing on something,
they're going to set up a speed trap."
At a time when many are rushing to support new legislation
to require motels to have sprinklers after six died in a Greenville
hotel fire this month, Hutto says they could make a far bigger
difference in supporting the seat belt legislation. Why? Because
highway fatalities from lack of seat belt use are a far greater
tragedy that is preventable.
"It's the one single simple thing we could do to reduce
highway deaths," he said.
Look for the Senate to deal with the bill in the coming week.
Natural weight loss
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
2/8: Minibottles can be viewed in different
To the editor:
The mini-bottle issue has several viewpoints,
including the quality and quantity of drinks served in public
places. In addition to pouring spouts which are supposed to
dispense one ounce, there are bar machines in existence that
hold large bottles of alcoholic beverages (quarts and liters).
The bartender or whoever has the key can program these machines
to dispense a specific amount, e.g. one ounce or 3/4s of an
ounce during "happy hours". Of course the same 3/4s
of an ounce can also be served at ounce prices later in the
day and night and thus the customer can be cheated. You can
never be sure unless you stop to measure, which is hard to
do when you order a mixed drink. As to quality, a customer
can order a single malt Scotch (most expensive) and wind up
with a multiple malt (of a lesser quality) unless he is a
real Scotch taster, which most of us are not.
Restaurants with bar facilities have gotten away from opening
the mini-bottle at the customers table (as is required by
law, I believe). We should insist on that for quantity and
-- Francis X. Archibald, Hanahan, S.C.
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