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Seat Belts May Soon Be Required For All Vehicle Occupants

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Government data shows states with primary seat belt enforcement laws have lower crash fatality rates. But North Carolina legislators may take it a step further.

When a Chevy Blazer went off the road and flipped over Monday at the intersection of Western Boulevard and Dan Allen Drive, police say the driver was wearing his seatbelt and survived the crash. However, his passenger was not, and he died at the scene.

Often, vehicles run off the roadway, people are ejected, and the impact causes death. When a passenger seat belted in, they remain in the vehicle and their chances of survival are greatly increase.

The latest stats show a majority of North Carolinians wear their seat belts, and it's saving lives. Of the more than 1,100 deadly crashes in 2004, seatbelts are credited with saving more than 600 lives.

Right now, anybody riding in the front seat of a car in North Carolina is required to buckle up. But when sitting in the back seat, adults have a choice. Only children 16 and younger must put on their seat belts in the back seat.

More than half the country has seat belt laws that in some way require everyone in the car to be buckled up. Now, lawmakers want to expand the state's seat belt law to include passengers in the back seat.

Rep. Nelson Dollar said seat belts helped relatives recently involved in a serious crash.

"They were, in some ways, in better shape than their cousin in the backseat who was not wearing a seatbelt, who was thought by rescue workers to be dead," said Dollar. "She was in that bad of shape."

However, Rep. Ron Sutton said he believes lawmakers are going too far in trying to legislate safety.

"I see the threat of this not as it is today, but in the very near future, adding points for not having your seat belt on," said Sutton.

Rep. Sutton said he plans to introduce a similar amendment when the bill comes up for its third and final reading Thursday. He hopes to convince more lawmakers to see things his way. If not, the Senate is expected to sign off on it and it's off to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature.


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