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Failure to buckle up may soon become 1st offense in WV

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Last year, the Legislature took steps to ensure drivers wouldn't text behind the wheel. Now, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would make the failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense.

House Bill 2108 passed the House of Delegates March 28 but not without debate. Although some delegates shared heart-wrenching stories of loved ones whose lives could have been saved had they worn a seat belt, others claimed the choice to buckle up is just that — a choice.

"I'm not saying we should eradicate all laws … but I do believe this one should be left up to individual liberty," said Delegate Josh Nelson, R-Boone.

Minors currently are required to wear seat belts, and if drivers are pulled over for another offense such as speeding, adults can be cited for not wearing a safety belt. Under the legislation, failure to buckle up would result in a $25 fine and no points on the driver's license.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said on the House floor she wouldn't encourage delegates to vote one way or another, but to follow their own conscious.

"I think we're all on our own on this one," she said. "You're going to have to vote your conscious. You're going to have to vote your heart."

Guthrie noted that failure to wear a seat belt and texting while driving are hazards, and she asked delegates if their personal freedoms were more important than safety.

"My constituents have the right to make this decision for themselves," said Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason. "Examine your own life, your own behavior. Does someone else have the right to decide that for you? Mountaineers are always free, until a politician decides that you're not."

The bill passed the House 55-44 and will now go to the Senate.