Most Georgians are familiar with the “Click It or Ticket” public safety campaign that urges people in the front seats of vehicles to wear seat belts or run the risk of getting pulled over.
Now, a Georgia senator says the law should be extended to all backseat passengers to help protect them from injury or dying in a wreck. The seat belt law, which is being studied by a Senate committee, presents a tension between safety versus individual rights. But even people wary of government encroachment say restrictions might be justified by statistics that prove the change is likely to save lives.
Sen. Tonya Anderson sponsored the resolution to create the study committee in the 2019 legislative session and she said she plans to introduce legislation requiring backseat passengers to fasten their seat belts next year.
Just 61% of people killed in wrecks in 2017 in Georgia wore a seat belt at the time.
Nationwide, nearly 15,000 deaths could have been avoided by seat belt use in 2017, the National Safety Council reports.
Anderson’s passenger vehicle seat belt study committee is meeting for the first time on Wednesday at the state Capitol.
State highway safety Director Allen Poole and Georgia State Patrol Col. Mark McDonough are scheduled to speak at the meeting.
“The state law says, ‘Click It or Ticket,’ it doesn’t say ‘Click It or Ticket except for the back seat,’” said Anderson, a Lithonia Democrat. “Statistics are high in the area of fatalities and accidents and unrestraints. It’s pretty much a public safety mechanism. If we’re going to create the law, it should be enforceable for the backseat as well.”
Georgia’s law not only requires drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, but also anyone under the age of 17 if they are riding behind the driver. Children eight and under should be in a child safety seat, depending on their height and weight.
People in some occupations are exempted, including farmers and mail carriers. Those exemptions would not be changed by any new legislation, Anderson said.
Seat belt use was once a controversial topic in the Legislature. In 2009, lawmakers debated whether people driving or riding in the front seat of pickup trucks should be required to buckle up. The law now requires people in pickup trucks to use seat belts as well.
Dalton Republican Sen. Chuck Payne, a member of the seat belt study committee, said he has an open mind heading into the committee meetings, but understands there is a fine line between respecting civil liberties and protecting people.
“The same case you’re making for farmers and things of that nature you could say the same thing for people jumping into the back of a limousine or a (rideshare) service or a bus for that matter,” he said.
Benita Dodd, vice president of the libertarian-leaning Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said she usually opposes new laws, however in this instance she could support a stricter seat belt measure if enough evidence makes the case that it would keep people safer.
“If there is safety data that can back up legislation requiring seat belts, I’m all for public safety and protecting people’s lives, but I would like to see the data that shows that,” she said.