In 2011, the General Assembly passed a law making seat belt violations a primary traffic offense, meaning that any individual could be pulled over by law enforcement solely for failing to wear a seat belt. The ACLU and other community groups objected that this legislation would give law enforcement another tool to engage in racial profiling, allowing them to pull over, interrogate, and potentially search drivers who have otherwise done nothing wrong. The groups argued that such legislation should only pass in conjunction with the approval of anti-racial profiling legislation. As a compromise, the General Assembly included a provision in the legislation automatically repealing the seat belt law after two years. With that deadline approaching, the General Assembly took up legislation to make the seat belt law permanent. In April, the ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committees that racial profiling remains a real problem and the seat belt law should be allowed to expire until racial profiling is addressed. In fact, preliminary reports by the state Department of Transportation indicate that black and Hispanic drivers are disproportionately stopped for these offenses, as the ACLU and others had predicted. Despite this, the General Assembly made the law permanent.
Mandatory Seat Belts (H 5140A, S 0352A as amended)
Representative Anastasia Williams and Senator Joshua Miller