Nevada Assembly hears seat-belt testimony

Traci Pearl, with the Nevada Department of Public Safety, testifies Tuesday, April 14, 2009, at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev. Lawmakers are considering a measure that would make failure to use a seatbelt a primary offense. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison)

Traci Pearl, with the Nevada Department of Public Safety, testifies Tuesday, April 14, 2009, at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev. Lawmakers are considering a measure that would make failure to use a seatbelt a primary offense. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison)

CARSON CITY (AP) " Nevada lawmakers and witnesses gave emotional testimony Tuesday on a bill that would allow police to stop any driver they believe isn't wearing a seat belt.

The Assembly Transportation Committee reviewed SB116, a new version of a proposal that has been killed in several previous sessions despite strong support from police agencies.

Seat belts are required in Nevada, but existing law prohibits police from stopping a driver for no reason other than a suspicion that the driver isn't belted.

Proponents of SB116, already approved by the state Senate, say it would save lives and reduce injuries. Opponents said seat belts don't necessarily save lives or may even harm or kill people in crashes, adding that current laws are enough.

Other critics of the bill contend that it interferes with personal liberty and may encourage racial profiling.

Sen. Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas, told lawmakers to "not get emotional about why the bill was brought forward," and called it "a matter of fiscal responsibility."

"You will hear other people testify it is their right to stay unbuckled. It is their right to put their life at risk," Schneider said. "I say if you want to attempt suicide just get it done, but don't come to the taxpayers here and say, 'Hey, pick up my expenses for my irresponsibility."'

Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, also backed the bill, saying seat belts may be an inconvenience but they save lives and "I just think we ought to get on with it and join the rest of the states who have seen the light and enact a primary seat belt law."

"I'm absolutely convinced that we would have in Nevada a substantial decline in fatalities and serious accidents if we had a mandatory primary seatbelt law," Hogan said. "I don't see any downsides whatsoever."

Assemblyman Jerry Claborn, D-Las Vegas, his voice rising, argued that the bill infringes on personal constitutional rights.

"I will not take this. I will not do it," Claborn said. "I will not take my constitutional rights from you, you aren't going to take them from me."

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, questioned statistics presented by the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety that said the bill would help close the small gap between people who currently use seatbelts and those who don't.

"The people that I know that aren't buckling up will not buckle up. I don't care what you do unless you put a police guy in every car," Carpenter said.

Assembly Transportation Chairman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, also questioned the statistics. He said that if he can be convinced SB116 would encourage unbelted drivers to buckle up "I'll vote for it " but until I am, I probably won't be supporting this bill."

Atkinson also said it's difficult to determine accident survivability regardless of seatbelt use, adding, "I don't think anyone in this room can really, really say in some accidents if someone would have lived or survived."

David Washington, a former Las Vegas fire chief, said that as "a black American" he's aware of statistics on racial profiling by authorities, but added SB116 would save lives.

"My point is that those statistics have their place, but certainly the lives of people are still important," Washington said.

Lynn Chapman and David Schumann of the conservative Nevada Families Eagle Forum opposed the measure on constitutional grounds.

"You can't help the stupidity of some people," Chapman said. "I mean what can you do? I don't think trying to force people to do this is the answer."

"I really don't need you folks to look after me," Schumann added.

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