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Lawmakers Push Bill to Stiffen State Seatbelt Laws

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RALEIGH — A near-fatal accident on Interstate 40 in Durham County is raising new concerns over seat belt safety.

Seven people were seriously hurt when a van blew a tire and flipped on Sunday. Only two people in the van were wearing seatbelts. Some of the seats weren't even bolted to the floor.

When it comes to reckless riding, even a fender bender can be dangerous. That's why some people say its time to give seat belt laws some teeth.

The Governor's Highway Safety Program credits the requirement of seatbelts in North Carolina for a 14% drop in fatal and personal injury accidents. But, now state legislators are considering House Bill 344 which would stiffen the current law. The ultimate intent is to save even more lives.

Most people have a simple view of North Carolina's seatbelt laws... or at least what they should be: that we must buckle up and it's the law.

But it's not quite that simple. If you're 12 years and older, no laws require you to wear a seat belt in the back seats. That applies to pick-up trucks as well.

"It doesn't cover everyone, and including people in the back seat," says Bill Stout, of the Governor's Highway Safety Program. "It's just as important for the people in the back seat to be belted because those people on top of everything else become missiles. And can actually injure the people in the front seat."

Stout says House Bill 344 could help change that. The bill would require everyone -- in the front and back seats -- to put on a seatbelt. The bill would also stiffen the penalty for violators.

"The thing to remember is people are not cargo. Cargo belongs in the back of the truck and that's why putting a folding seat or some other kind of device in the back to make it a passenger compartment doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

House Bill 344 would not cover pick-up trucks. That portion of the legislation was taken out. So, the current law would still apply. As long as the passenger is 12 years or older, its perfectly legal for him or her to ride in the bed of the truck. And some counties allow exemptions for children.

House Bill 344 is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.


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