Refusing to wear a seatbelt in Nevada could land drivers in a community service program under a bill considered Thursday by the Senate Transportation Committee.
SB235 I would make not wearing a seat belt a nonmoving violation for passengers and drivers. Punishment could include community service or a $25 fine. It would also allow police to pull drivers over if they suspect anyone in the vehicle has not buckled up.
Nevadans are currently required to wear seatbelts but police cannot use it as a reason to pull over vehicles.
Supporters of the bill provided emotional testimony, like that of Tina LaVoie, who cried while recounting her last conversation with her daughter, Hillary. LaVoie said that as a parent she did all the right things.
"I did lead by example. I wore my seatbelt all the time." Her daughter, she said, "was always the first person with her seatbelt on."
But the Shadow Ridge High School senior was killed in a September 2010 car accident in which she was traveling with friends. LaVoie said Hillary knew the law.
"She knew she could take the seat belt off."
Supporters also included Chuck Reider, chief safety officers at the Nevada Department of Transportation. Reider said 32 percent of all people killed in Nevada automobile accidents from 2005 and 2009 died because they did not buckle up.
There was, however, opposition and it centered around two key issues: racial profiling and human nature.
Orrin Johnson with the Washoe County Public Defender's Office said SB235 creates a muddy area for law enforcement because "it's not easy to see what's happening on the inside of the car," so it would be difficult to defend pulling over a vehicle on those grounds.
Rebecca Gasca with the American Civil Liberties Union added that the bill could be used as a tool "for stopping a car in order to search, interrogate or simply harass a driver."
Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, said her problem with the bill was far more basic. The Oregon native said her home state is proof that laws like SB235 won't save lives. Four of her friends were killed in vehicle crashes.
"This law does not save your friends. I'm sorry this law has nothing to do with safety," she said.
No action was taken on the bill Thursday.