Tougher seat belt laws could bring Georgia millions - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Tougher seat belt laws could bring Georgia millions

October 11, 2005

Albany-- The state of Georgia may be losing millions of dollars in federal grant money. Under the Transportation Equity Act, the US government gives each state money for highway safety but that money comes with  buckling up.

Among all the cars on the road in south Georgia, you see a lot of pickup trucks. Drivers say there's something special about them. "Ahh man, I don't know. I guess everything. I gotta have it for what I do. I'm in the trailer business," says driver Joe Clark. When Joe Clark gets in his pickup, he makes sure he uses his safety belt.

"When I was growing up, everybody said it was the right thing to do and my uncle got killed a while back because he didn't have on a seatbelt," says Clark. But it's not the law. "Pickup truck drivers know that they don't have to wear their safety belts if they're over the age of 18 and unfortunately, many of them choose to do that," says Safe Communities Coordinator Michele DeMott.

Every six years, Congress allots federal grant money for transportation but Georgia hasn't cashed in. "Georgia is losing about $21 million dollars in this TEA-21 Appropriations Act because we have a loophole for pickup truck drivers," says DeMott. In order to qualify for the grant, the federal government makes it simple, make all pickup truck drivers buckle up. But will lawmakers change that loophole?

"It's an exemption that I think in the interest of public safety will be given a hard look at and I think it'll be motivated by public safety I think and not financial reasons," says State Representative Ed Rynders.

Rynders is part of the transportation committee. He says the seat belt law comes down to public safety versus individual rights. "Is the government supposed to tell me I'm supposed to put my seatbelt on? And especially in those agricultural kind of areas where the tendency is to think that less government is better government," says Rynders. "In the last ten years, pickup trucks have become not so much farm vehicles, although they are still used on farms, but they're also family vehicles now," says Demott.

Although it's not law, some families already say yes to seatbelts while some say no. "Safety, just want to make sure I'm there for him, my wife and take care of myself and everyone else on the road," says driver Lee Barnard. But if a new law passes, all drivers will buckle up while the state rolls in millions of federal dollars.

According to the Governor's Office on Highway Safety, Georgia is the only state that exempts pickup drivers from wearing seatbelts. If the general assembly closes the loophole in the next session, Georgia would be eligible for the next round of grants.

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