A push to require all passengers in a vehicle traveling Georgia’s roadways to buckle up crashed into concerns Wednesday that the proposed penalties were a bit too harsh.
Today, a driver or front-seat passenger can pick up a $15 citation for being unsecured, but a Senate bill would expand the law to all occupants in the backseat – not just children – and hike the fine to $75.
An unbuckled child in the back seat who is too old for a car seat would cost the driver $125.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican, would also now add a single point to a person’s driving record.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan flagged the proposed fines as excessive. He said he would rather see a more reasonable fine that would serve to promote good habits. The Carrollton Republican suggested a graduated fine instead.
“What I’m worried about is some of the more less-able people in our society,” Dugan said. “$125 fine is a pretty steep fine.”
The bill, which was a holdover from last year, doesn’t touch the thornier issue of whether someone’s seat belt usage should be allowed as evidence in a civil trial. That Georgia Chamber of Commerce-backed concept promises to pit insurers against trial attorneys and their clients seeking payment for their injuries, should it emerge this session as some lawmakers had hoped.
“Do you not think that by passing this it would further exaggerate the issue that we have in the judicial system when you can’t admit seat belt usage into evidence?” Sen. Tyler Harper, an Ocilla Republican, said to the sponsor.
Robertson, who is a former law enforcement officer, said he preferred to keep his proposal narrowly focused on passenger safety and avoiding the public costs of responding to these serious wrecks.
“I think what we’re dealing with are two entirely different issues here,” Robertson said.
The Senate Public Safety Committee did not vote on the bill Wednesday so more changes could be made. The committee’s discussion is set to resume Monday, when a vote is expected.
Georgia lawmakers stirred up controversy when they first required seat belt usage back in the 1980s. Exceptions were granted for pickup trucks and some drivers, like postal carriers and farmers. The issue remains touchy decades later.
“I would be OK if we struck the entire seat belt code from Georgia law because I believe whole-heartedly in personal responsibility and personal liberty,” Harper, who is a farmer, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I think seat belts is one of those perfect examples of policy where it’s an individual choice.”
Georgia Recorder reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.