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In W.Va., expect to get pulled over for not wearing seat belt

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Police officers could stop drivers for seat-belt violations alone in West Virginia under a measure passed Thursday by the House of Delegates, following years of failed attempts and an emotional debate in which both sides invoked loved ones lost to vehicle crashes.

State law requires seat belts for drivers, front-seat passengers and anyone younger than 18 in a rear seat. But not wearing a seat belt is a secondary offense, meaning that a driver must be pulled over for some other violation to be cited.

The House vote was 55-44. If the measure wins final passage and becomes law, West Virginia would join 31 states that treat failing to use a seat belt as a primary offense. Those who violate it would face a $25 fine and possibly court costs. The law provides for a fine of up to that amount but bars assessing court costs.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which passed such a measure by a wide margin last year.

Advocates who spoke during Thursday's debate included Delegate Margaret Smith. The Lewis County Democrat's voice trembled as she recalled the night her family got a phone call telling them her brother had been killed in a crash. She said she considered her vote among the most important she has cast as a legislator.

“We're going to save some lives,” Smith said.

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