Georgia law enforcement officials told a Senate study committee Wednesday they support a law that would require backseat passengers to wear seat belts.
The Senate Passenger Vehicle Seat Safety Belt Study Committee was created through Senate Resolution 366 at the behest of Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, over concerns about the number of deaths and injuries that occur when passengers are not buckled up. Anderson called it a loophole in the state’s public safety laws that are often enforced through “Click It or Ticket” campaigns.
“It doesn’t mean 'Click It or Ticket' except the back seat,” she told the committee.
Thirty other states require backseat passengers to wear their seatbelts, said Chairman John Albers, R-Roswell.
About half of the state’s overall fatalities occurred in part because the occupant was not wearing a seat belt, said Allen Poole, director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
“Just because you are in the [back of the] vehicle it doesn’t mean that you are more safe than being in front of the vehicle,” said Poole, a former state trooper.
The state is also facing financial repercussions due to its traffic laws. About $1.5 million in funds from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is left on the table that is not only attributed to seat belt usage but to nonadherence to distracted driving standards, according to Poole.
Georgians also pay more for their car insurance, mainly because the state is in the top five in the country when it comes to crashes, Poole added.
Col. Mark McDonough, director of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, agreed with Poole’s assessment.
Cars have a lot of new technology, including air bags, but it is meant to be used in conjunction with seat belts, McDonough told the committee.
“I think it’s common sense that the rear of that seat and the back of that seat and the side of that rear seat is just as damaging and you could be just as susceptible to be thrown out of the side windows or the back windshield if you’re not wearing your seat belt in the rear seat,” McDonough said. “I think it’s just one of those common sense things that can be done to tighten up the law and then through education and enforcement we can change that behavior.”
The committee is expected to meet twice more before Dec. 1, when its findings are expected to be completed.