H. B. 2698

(By Delegates Smirl and Romine)
[Introduced February 9, 1999; referred to the
Committee on Roads and Transportation then the Judiciary.]

A BILL to amend and reenact section forty-nine, article fifteen, chapter seventeen-c of the code of West Virginia, one thousand nine hundred thirty-one, as amended, relating to operation of a vehicle without a seat belt; removing language limiting the charge to only those events where the operator had been detained under a belief that some other traffic violation had occurred.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That section forty-nine, article fifteen, chapter seventeen-c of the code of West Virginia, one thousand nine hundred thirty-one, as amended, be amended and reenacted to read as follows:

§17C-15-49. Operation of vehicles with safety belts; exception; penalty; civil actions; educational program by West Virginia state police.

(a) Effective the first day of September, one thousand nine hundred ninety-three, a person may not operate a passenger vehicle on a public street or highway of this state unless the person, any passenger in the back seat under eighteen years of age, and any passenger in the front seat of such passenger vehicle is restrained by a safety belt meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. For the purposes of this section, the term "passenger vehicle" means a motor vehicle which is designed for transporting ten passengers or less, including the driver, except that such term does not include a motorcycle, a trailer, or any motor vehicle which is not required on the date of the enactment of this section under a federal motor vehicle safety standard to be equipped with a belt system. The provisions of this section shall apply to all passenger vehicles manufactured after the first day of January, one thousand nine hundred sixty-seven, and being 1968 models and newer.
(b) The required use of safety belts as provided herein does not apply to a duly appointed or contracted rural mail carrier of the United States postal service who is actually making mail deliveries or to a passenger or operator with a physically disabling condition whose physical disability would prevent appropriate restraint in such safety belt if the condition is duly certified by a physician who shall state the nature of the disability as well as the reason such restraint is inappropriate. The division of motor vehicles shall adopt rules, in accordance with the provisions of chapter twenty-nine-a of this code, to establish a method to certify the physical disability and to require use of an alternative restraint system where feasible or to waive the requirement for the use of any restraint system.
(c) Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall be fined not more than twenty-five dollars. No court costs or other fees shall be assessed for a violation of this section. Enforcement of this section shall be accomplished only as a secondary action when a driver of a passenger vehicle has been detained for probable cause of violating another section of this code.
(d) A violation of this section is not admissible as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence or comparative negligence in any civil action or proceeding for damages, and shall not be admissible in mitigation of damages: Provided, That the court may, upon motion of the defendant, conduct an in camera hearing to determine whether an injured party's failure to wear a safety belt was a proximate cause of the injuries complained of. Upon such a finding by the court, the court may then, in a jury trial, by special interrogatory to the jury, determine: (1) That the injured party failed to wear a safety belt; and (2) that the failure to wear the safety belt constituted a failure to mitigate damages. The trier of fact may reduce the injured party's recovery for medical damages by an amount not to exceed five percent thereof. In the event the plaintiff stipulates to the reduction of five percent of medical damages, the court shall make the calculations and the issue of mitigation of damages for failure to wear a safety belt shall not be presented to the jury. In all cases, the actual computation of the dollar amount reduction shall be determined by the court.
(e) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code to the contrary, no points may be entered on any driver's record maintained by the division of motor vehicles as a result of a violation of this section.
(f) Commencing the first day of July, one thousand nine hundred ninety-three, the governor's highway safety program, in cooperation with the division of public safety state police and any other state departments or agencies and with county and municipal law-enforcement agencies, shall initiate and conduct an educational program designed to encourage compliance with safety belt usage laws. This program shall be focused on the effectiveness of safety belts, the monetary savings and the other benefits to the public from usage of safety belts and the requirements and penalties specified in this law.
(g) Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to abrogate or alter the provisions of section forty-six of this article relating to the mandatory use of child passenger safety devices.

NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to remove that language of section forty-nine that limits the violation of operating a motor vehicle without seat belts to only those occasions when the operator has been stopped in the belief that some other violation has occurred.

Strike-throughs indicate language that would be stricken from the present law, and underscoring indicates new language that would be added.