AUGUSTA – A bill to make failure to wear a seat belt a secondary, rather than a primary, offense died in the Senate on Thursday, a day after being rejected by the House in a preliminary vote.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, told his caucus before the Senate vote that he was giving up on the bill, which had failed on a 91-51 vote in the House.
That margin was too great to overcome, Collins said in an interview. “I didn’t want to keep beating a dead horse.”
Collins was hopeful earlier this month, when the Senate narrowly voted to support the bill, L.D. 64, on a vote that was divided largely on party lines.
But on Thursday, the Senate voted 18-16 to kill it.
Collins, describing himself as a “libertarian who believes that people should decide for themselves about whether they should wear a seat belt,” said the bill suffered its lopsided defeat in the House after an effective floor speech by Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting.
Burns, a retired state police trooper, told representatives that he had seen many fatal car accidents over years, and that many of the victims would be alive today if they had worn seat belts.
Burns said that making seat belt violations secondary — meaning that police officers could not stop drivers solely for not wearing seat belts — would weaken the law so much that it would be worthless.
“I think we have come too far to turn this back now,” Burns said in an interview Thursday.
The seat belt law took effect in 2008. It says police can stop a vehicle if they see that a driver or a passenger is not wearing a seat belt. If anyone younger than 18 is unbuckled, the driver can be cited.
The fines for violating the law are $50 for the first offense, $125 for the second offense and $250 for the third and subsequent offenses.
Representatives of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, the Maine Department of Public Safety, the insurance industry, AAA Northern New England and General Motors spoke against the bill at a public hearing.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: