New seat belt law advances

Published 9:20 am Friday, March 24, 2017

JACKSON — Buckle up, Mississippi, because it could soon be the law, no matter where you sit in a car.

Senators on Thursday sent a bill that would require seat belts for all passengers — front seat or back — to Gov. Phil Bryant for approval or veto.

Senate Bill 2724 would expand Mississippi’s current law, which requires restraints only for children and front-seat passengers. Senators passed the bill with no debate and 17 votes against it. That’s a change from the heavy debate that Mississippi’s current seat belt law sparked in the 1990s, when lawmakers approved the law after multiple attempts.

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Buses would be exempt, as would farm, mail and utility vehicles. A driver could be fined $25 for every unbelted passenger, although violations would not be listed on a person’s driving record.

The bill would take effect July 1 if Bryant signs it.

Mississippi would become the 29th state to mandate that all passengers in the back seat wear belts, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The association found in a recent report that back-seat occupants are three times more likely to die in a crash if they are unbelted than if they are restrained.

That report also found that while 83 percent of back-seat occupants wore belts in states that mandate use, only 74 percent use belts in states that don’t require back-seat passengers to buckle up.

Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, pushed the measure after two unrestrained teens were thrown from the back seat of a pickup truck and killed Nov. 21 in Marshall County. Massengill named the bill Harlie’s Law in honor of 15-year-old Potts Camp resident Harlie Ann Brooke Oswalt, who was killed in the crash after the truck ran off the road. Tristan Bragg, her 17-year-old cousin from Texas, also died.