Scott Looking At Stronger Seat Belt Law After Numerous Traffic Fatalities

Aug 9, 2017

Throughout his political career as a state senator, lieutenant governor and now as governor, Phil Scott has always opposed legislation that would allow police to stop drivers who are not wearing a seat belt. But the governor says he's now rethinking how he feels about this issue.

At issue is what's known as a primary enforcement law. Under Vermont's current secondary enforcement law, a person must be pulled over for a different infraction to be charged with a seat belt violation.

Scott says he’s taking another look at this question because since last Friday, eight people were killed in several vehicle crashes in Vermont and seven of the victims were not wearing a seat belt.

So far this year, 57 percent of all traffic fatalities have involved victims who were not wearing a seat belt. Scott says he’s concerned about this situation.

"We have a sense of urgency with the number of deaths that we've witnessed this week, and I'm concerned about the trend that we're seeing of those who aren't wearing seat belts," Scott said.

Scott says he now has an open mind about a primary enforcement law.

"I'm not sure that primary enforcement is going to solve the issue but if it can be determined that it will help in any way then I would look more favorably on it than I have in the past," said Scott.

"We have a sense of urgency with the number of deaths that we've witnessed this week and I'm concerned about the trend that we're seeing of those who aren't wearing seat belts."— Gov. Phil Scott

Scott isn't the only state leader who's reconsidering opposition to the primary enforcement law.

Grand Isle Sen. Dick Mazza is the long time chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He says these recent traffic fatalities have definitely had an impact.

"I think a lot of us were shocked to think that's happening, and would it have made a difference? Well probably it would have,” said Mazza. “When you lose that many people in such a short period of time you've got to take notice."  

Mazza says his committee will take extensive testimony on a primary enforcement bill when lawmakers return to the Statehouse for the 2018 session.

"When you lose that many people in such a short period of time you've got to take notice."— Senate Transportation chairman Dick Mazza

"I have committed to in January when we get back to have some open discussion with the committee,” said Mazza. “At this point I am open to see what the advantages would be if we had primary enforcement.” 

Jericho Rep. George Till is the sponsor of a primary enforcement bill in the House. He says there's no question that the legislation will boost seat belt compliance rates. Vermont's current rate is roughly 84 percent.

"When there is a change from secondary to primary enforcement, the seat belt utilization goes up, and it goes up about 9 percent in most of the places," he said.    

Till says opponents of the bill who argue that it's wrong for government to dictate personal behavior are missing the point.

"It is already the law. We have passed the law that says you need to wear your seat belt,” said Till. “We are purely talking about whether we enforce our law or not and how we enforce our law."  

Till says he's hopeful that both the House and the Senate will pass a primary enforcement bill next winter.