Primary Offense

Use of seat belts by motorists and their passengers can prevent deaths and limit injuries in accidents. Studies involving thousands of car and truck crashes affirm that.

West Virginia law requires anyone in the front seat of a vehicle and those under 18 regardless of where they are to wear seat belts.

But failure to comply is listed as a secondary offense. That means police cannot pull offenders over solely for failure to wear seat belts, even if they witness it. Tickets for not wearing seat belts can be issued only if drivers are pulled over for speeding or other traffic law violations.

We suspect virtually every police officer and sheriff’s deputy in the state has witnessed occupants of vehicles they pull over hurriedly and surreptitiously “buckling up” as the officer walks up to their car or truck.

A bill approved last week by the House of Delegates would make failure to wear seat belts a primary offense. That means police would be able to pull violators over solely on the strength of noticing a driver or passenger not wearing a seat belt.

Debate over the measure included concern over infringing on personal liberties. But the state already has a variety of laws requiring certain behavior, in order to safeguard people from their own bad judgment.

State senators approved a similar measure last year, but it died in the House. Senators should approve the House bill without delay and send it to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his signature.


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