Panel rejects seat belt measure

By the same vote count as two years ago a primary seat belt law has died again in the House Transportation Committee.

Proponents said the law wouldhave increased seatbelt use and saved lives, but the committee tied 10-10on the long-standing reluctance to impose onpersonal liberty.

The tie was most likely to soften the defeat of the bill for the emotional crowd of victims who came to testify. Two Democrats did notvote, one of whom, Delegate Jackie Stump, D-3rd District, voted against the law in 2001 causing a 10-10 tie then.

Delegate Joe T. May, R-33rd District, of Loudoun, sponsored the bill and voted for it as a member of the committee. In 2001 he was one of the four who did not vote.

Maycarried the bill for Gov. Mark R. Warner.

“There is a balance with personal freedom,” said Loudoun Delegate Richard Black, R-32nd District. “Janice Joplin once said ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ and Janice Joplin was totally wrong. When you have freedom you really have everything to lose and everything to give up. I’m not prepared to vote in favor of forcing people to use seatbelts rather than encourage them to do so.”

The swing vote could have been Delegate Leo Wardrup, R-83rd District, of Virginia Beach.

He said he has gradually changed his mind on the issue, seeing the gruesome results of crashes and seeing how much the state pays for the uninsured or those who deplete their savings. But he said he would only vote for it if the fine was raised from $25 to a range of $100 to $250, reasoning$25 is”a joke” and could easily be paid by a 17-year-old for the same price as a “case of premium beer that he shouldn’t have either.”

Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd District, chairman of the committee, voted against the bill as expected with his anti-Big Brother voting record.

Supporters of the bill, many with tears in their eyes remembering lost relatives, their own injuries, or vehicles crashed with dead teenagers decades ago, said the small imposition on drivers is reasonable given the result.

“I think it’s a stand — you’re not going to tell us what to do. But we do all the time,” said Samir Fakhry, head of trauma at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He said freedom to drive unbelted is not what the social contract is about — “it’s about accepting things because it’s for the good of the whole … driving a three-ton vehicle is not a choice. It’s a responsibility.”

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