Making Ohio’s roads safer

Ohio has made great strides in trying to reduce the number of people hurt or killed in vehicles here, with a stricter law that makes it a primary offense to use or hold a cellphone or electronic device in your hand, lap or other parts of the body while driving.

Gov. Mike DeWine seems eager to keep up the momentum, with a push to make seat belt violations a primary reason for pulling over. Right now, a seat belt violation can earn a ticket only if the driver is caught for another violation — speeding, for example.

The fine for not wearing a seat belt is $30 for the driver and $20 for a passenger. For too many, that is no deterrent at all for their reckless decision-making.

“Ohio is 10th from the bottom of all states in seat belt use,” DeWine said, according to a report by WBNS. “While the national average for seat belt use is 91%, Ohio’s number is only 81%.”

Meanwhile, 527 people who were killed in crashes in Ohio in 2022 were not wearing their seat belts.

Both state Speaker of the House Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hills, and state Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, expressed concerns that such a change in the law would be shut down over matters of “personal responsibility” and “personal freedom,” according to WBNS.

For good measure, Huffman threw in “Some of it also is the folks who tend to get those tickets, those folks who are stopped the most are people who are least able to pay the bill.”

By that logic, there are all kinds of offenses that should be rebranded as a matter of personal freedom and taken off the books.

It is not sound logic, of course. (One wonders whether Huffman has the same concerns for the plethora of other crimes for which the penalties tend to more adversely affect poor and vulnerable populations. If so, there are many who would welcome an opening of that discussion.)

Lawmakers should give DeWine’s idea serious consideration. Seat belts save lives. Failure to wear one is already an offense. Making it a primary offense, as has already been done with cellphone use, seems the next necessary step.


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