Could a Mandatory Seat Belt Law Make Racial Profiling Worse?

Supporters say it's a lifesaver, but others fear it would make the problem of racial profiling worse.

State Rep. Irv Slosberg is on a mission. For five years he’s been pushing to change the law to let police stop you for simply not wearing your seat belt. He is motivated by memories of his 14-year-old daughter Dori who died in a car crash nearly nine years ago. She was not buckled up.

"I don’t want any family or any loved one to have to go through what I’ve gone through, or my family has gone through in their lives. I feel very strongly that this is going to save a lot of lives,” he says.

But critics say it’s not that simple. Minority motorists fear police will just use seat belts as an excuse to pull them over. The bill has bogged down in the state Senate mainly because of racial profiling concerns.

Sen. Gary Siplin says he’ll fight it again this year to protect minority young people from being harassed.

Sen. Siplin says, “They’re being stopped now for a variety of reason and their parents are concerned that if they had a primary seat belt law that would give a police officer who had bad motives and intent another excuse to stop their children and violate their rights.”

But COL Larry Austin of the Florida Highway Patrol says it’s two separate issues. Racial profiling should be dealt with through education and discipline, he says. Passing a primary stop law is about getting people to wear seat belts.

LT COL Austin says, ‘We want to save everybody, and that includes blacks, whites, Hispanics. It doesn’t matter. Our main goal is to save lives out there, to reduce the injury or death.”

Illinois passed a primary stop law in 2003. Last year it had its lowest highway fatality rate in 60 years. The bill passed its first House committee Tuesday. We'll let you know if it ultimately passes or fails.