A Duluth police officer passes out coupons to Norcross High School teenagers who were wearing their seat belts as they leave school. PAM PROUTY/STAFF

Georgia Senate panel to pursue tougher seat belt laws

A Georgia Senate panel will support changes to require anyone riding in a vehicle to wear a seat belt.

Lawmakers are expected to pursue legislation next session that would make it illegal to not wear seat belts while sitting in the front or back seats of a passenger vehicle.

Georgia currently requires drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, and anyone 17 or under in back seats must be restrained. But adults are not required to buckle up in the back seat.

State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, the chairman of a committee studying seat belt use, said the change will save lives.

“We believe there should be more public service announcements and times put into reminding and educating the public on the importance of wearing their seat belts at all times and in all locations,” Albers said Monday.

State Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, the sponsor of a bill proposed last legislative session that would make the change, said many people already think the law requires them to wear a restraint in the back seat.

Anderson’s legislation, Senate Bill 160, stalled in the Senate.

The chances of getting a universal seat belt requirement through the General Assembly in the upcoming legislative session remain unclear. In the past, many lawmakers have resisted seat belt requirements.

Still, Anderson said she’s hopeful about her bill.

“I am confident it will become law because it already has bipartisan support,” she said, adding that most people on the five-member study committee have said they favor the change.

Georgia is one of 20 states that don’t require adults in the back seats of vehicles to buckle up. Safety advocates say many people are paying with their lives.

In 2017, 44% of the 1,057 people who died in crashes on Georgia roads were not wearing seat belts. Nationwide, 43% of people who died in crashes were not buckled up.

Georgia first started regulating seat belts in 1988, only requiring front-seat occupants to buckle up. The law has been altered over the years — slowly adding specifications that allowed police to cite someone spotted not wearing a seat belt and required minors and those riding in pickup trucks to be restrained.

“You eat the elephant one bit at a time,” Anderson said. “We’re almost there.”

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