SHERIDAN — A missed procedural deadline last week marked the end for a bill that would have allowed law enforcement to pull over drivers solely for not wearing a seat belt.
March 22 was the final day for bills to gain initial approval in their chamber of origin, and the seat belt legislation was not heard on the Senate floor by that deadline. The list of bills brought before the Senate is typically determined by Majority Floor Leader Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, in consultation with legislators and the public.
Senate File 11 was first suggested by the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming Highway Patrol, and it received support from the Wyoming Trucking Association and Wyoming Public Health Association. But according to Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson, the proposal had less support from the general public.
“There are two sides to every coin,” Thompson said. “On the one side, we, as law enforcement, do like the idea of seat belts as a primary reason for a stop, because it allows us to do what we need to do in order to ensure people are safe. But, on the other side, people here are understandably very protective of their own free will and their ability to make their own decisions. And, while most people wear safety belts, a lot of them take exception to the government requiring things like that.”
A previous Sheridan Press article on the proposed seat belt legislation drew 148 comments on Facebook — all of which were opposed to the legislation.
“Let the individual person decide if they want to wear their seat belt,” Brett Garden posted.
“Just another law to harass citizens,” Wayne Morgan wrote.
Currently, Wyoming has secondary seat belt enforcement, which means officers can cite a driver for seat belt violations but only if they are pulled over for other infractions such as speeding or driving with a busted tail light.
Currently, 34 states have primary enforcement seat belt laws while another 15 have secondary laws, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. New Hampshire effectively has no adult seat belt law, and it is legal for those older than age 18 to ride without a belt in that state.
States with primary laws had a higher rate of seat belt usage in 2019 (92%) than states without them (86.2%), according to the NHTSA. From 2018 to 2019, seat belt usage went up in primary law states (by 1.4%) while it went down (by 0.2%) in states with secondary — or no — enforcement.
While both Thompson and Sheridan Police Department Capt. Tom Ringley said they would have supported the legislation if it moved forward, they said they were dedicated to encouraging driver safety through other means — primarily education.
“The tool we prefer to use is education,” Ringley said. “We do constant media campaigns reminding people not only of the importance of wearing a seat belt, but of safe driving habits in general including DUI mitigation. We’ll continue to do that, and hope it changes some hearts and minds.”
“I think there are a lot of things we can do to educate the public about the benefits of using safety equipment, and we are making some headway in that realm,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of people who have never traveled without a seat belt. As long as we keep reminding the public to put their seat belts on, hopefully they will make the right choice. So the primary seat belt law would have been nice, but it’s not the end of the world to move forward without it.”