New seat belt law includes all passengers

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

Shelby County motorists, get ready to buckle up. Alabama’s new seat belt law requires all motor vehicle passengers—including those in the back seat—to wear a seat belt, effective Sept. 1.

State law previously required only drivers, front seat passengers and minors in the back seat to wear safety belts.

“I think it’s very positive—anything that’s going to enhance safety for public motorists is a good thing,” said Capt. Jay Fondren, administrative division commander of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

Department of Transportation statistics show 47 percent of the 37,133 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017 were not wearing seat belts.

Data from 2016 also shows a disturbing trend—back seat passengers tend to wear their seat belts less because they wrongly believe that they are safer than those in the front: Fifty-seven percent of back seat vehicle occupants who died in crashes were unrestrained, compared to 47 percent of those killed in the front passenger seat.

The main reasons given for buckling up are that it prevents passengers from being ejected from a vehicle—which is usually deadly—and that airbags alone are not enough; in fact, an unrestrained passenger can be killed from the force of an airbag.

“Any time you are involved in a motor vehicle collision, your body is susceptible to a lot of force, and it’s important that you have some sort of safety device that holds you in place and prevents you from being ejected from the vehicle,” Fondren said.

While the law is changing, the failure of a back seat passenger to wear a safety belt is a secondary violation, meaning a ticket cannot be issued unless the vehicle in question is first pulled over for a different reason.

Fondren warns those ticketed for seatbelt violations:

“It does go on your driving record,” he said.

Another new state law going into effect Sept. 1 is the Anti-Road Rage Act, intended to keep slow drivers out of the left lane of traffic. The measure limits left lane travel to 1.5 miles without passing.

“Motorists get very frustrated when they’re trying to pass someone and there’s a vehicle in that far left lane that’s traveling at the same speed as the vehicle in the right lane,” Fondren said.

There are exceptions, including traffic congestion, road construction, roadway obstructions, severe weather, left lane exits, and the duty to move over for emergency vehicles on the shoulder.

Law enforcement will only be handing out warnings for the first 60 days of the Anti-Road Rage Act due to a grace period. However, fines for first-time violations of the state’s Move Over Law, which requires vehicles to move over for cars with flashing lights on the roadside, are increasing from $25 to $100.