Why Doesn’t Montana Have A Primary Seatbelt Law?

Connor Casne-Jones, Head Writer

Montana is a great state, but when it comes to traffic laws, it is way behind most other states. Montana is top three in the nation for traffic fatalities per 100,000, and has been for quite some time. Why is this? Is it due to the windy, slick, mountain passes? or is it the lack of High quality roads available to many Montanans? Nope and nope. Instead, it’s that Montana is one of two remaining states without a primary seat belt law. This is not the first time that Montana has been behind on basic laws. Our state didn’t even have an open container law until October of 2005. Even now, the punishment for an open container is just a mere $100, and it doesn’t show up on your permanent record.

Right now, Montana’s seatbelt law is secondary. Meaning you cannot be pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. The penalty for not wearing a seatbelt is a mere $20 and does not go on any record. It is estimated by Plan2Live (a safety movement from the Montana Department of Transportation) that a primary seatbelt law would save 20 to 30 lives every year. Ignoring a seatbelt law is not just deadly for drivers, it’s deadly for our wallets too. Every crash results in higher taxes for the public. Montana taxpayers pay millions on services such as Medvac, jaws of life, police, and hospital fees, that could potentially be avoided by a primary seat belt law.

Our very own Mr. Scanlon, a driver’s education teacher at Helena High, had this to say about Montana’s lack of a primary seatbelt law: “I think it comes down to the Montana ‘cowboy up’ society. Scanlon added “I don’t think people understand that the lack of a primary seatbelt law costs everyone.”

According to Buckle Up Montana, we have almost triple the national average of motor vehicle deaths for 21 to 34-year olds. This is partially due to Montana having 10% fewer people wearing seatbelts than the nationwide percentage. More people will wear their seatbelt if it is a primary law. On
average, primary laws result in higher rates of seatbelt use than secondary seatbelt laws. It is foolish and lazy by our representatives to not pass a primary seatbelt law. So why don’t we have one? Scanlon thinks representatives from a specific group, saying “It will take someone young and charismatic to go in and tune them up.” It’s our generation’s responsibility to make a change here. If we don’t do it, who