Lawmakers recommend stricter seatbelt laws

ATLANTA — A Senate study committee is pushing lawmakers for stricter seatbelt laws.

Georgia does not require backseat passengers to wear seatbelts, but after law enforcement and public testimony, the committee recommended amending vehicle restraint laws.

In the final committee report released this week, lawmakers said they are in favor of Georgia joining the other 30 states who require all passengers in the vehicle to wear seatbelts. The recommendation includes promoting safety through public service announcements and awareness outreach.

“The fact that seatbelts reduce injuries and save lives is well established by all of the testimony heard by the committee as well as by an overwhelming wealth of research conducted over several decades,” the report reads.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seatbelts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. The group estimates that if all vehicle passengers were properly restrained, 2,456 additional lives would have been saved.

In Georgia in 2017, about half of the individuals killed in passenger vehicle crashes were not properly buckled-up.

The committee argued the lack of rear seat restraint requirements could be a factor in Georgia’s high costs of insurance and that stricter seatbelt laws will reduce medical costs.

The committee also recommends adjusting state law to allow attorneys defending automakers and insurance companies in personal injury lawsuits to bring evidence on whether a person was not wearing a seatbelt during the crash being considered.

State Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, led the initiative to fill in the gap in the current law that exempts adult passengers in the back seat of vehicles from having to wear a seatbelt.

“To find this loophole and to bring it in front of the General Assembly is in the interest of public safety and saving lives,” Anderson said during a committee meeting in September.

Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.

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