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Florida governor to sign tougher seat belt law aimed at reducing car accident injuries and fatalities

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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed the state’s tougher seat belt law during an afternoon ceremony today — giving law enforcement permission to stop vehicles with unbelted front-seat passengers.

Florida ranks 35th in the nation in seat-belt usage. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration estimates the law will prevent 1,733 serious injury and save 124 lives on Florida roads each year. Florida injury lawyers represent hundreds of people each year who are seriously injured or killed in a car accident. We urge a comprehensive approach to safe driving as the best protection and remind motorists that even those wearing seat belts are often seriously injured or killed in Florida traffic collisions.

Current law, which passed in 1986, allows law enforcement to ticket unbelted front-seat adult occupants only after the vehicle was stopped for a moving violation. Minors can be stopped and ticketed under both the new and the old law.

The law allows for a $30 fine plus court and administrative costs.

The new law takes effect June 30 and is named after Dori Slosberg, the 14-year-old daughter of a former Boca Raton state representative killed in a car crash in 1996, and Katie Marchetti, a 16-year-old Brandon resident killed in a 2006 car crash.

NHTSA research shows 61 percent of the 1,201 people killed in automobile accidents in Florida in 2007 were not wearing seat belts.

“More than a thousand lives could have been savied if they had been wearing their seat belits,” said Katie’s mother, Laura Marchetti. “That’s more than a thousand loved ones who are no longer here with us today … and countless broken hearts.”

Although both girls routinely wore their seat belts, they were not buckled up at the time of the fatal accidents. The Marchetti family has a website in their daughter’s honor, www.katiesstory.com.

“The perseverance of former Representative Irv Slosberg and the Marchettis turned personal tragedy into a life saving initiative,” said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos. “Safety is the number one priority of the Florida Department of Transportation. We know this new law will save lives and reduce serious injuries on our roadways.”

The law makes the state eligible for a one time grant of up to $35.5 million, available to states with an 85 percent seat-belt compliance rate or a primary enforcement law by June 30 of this year.

Other states with primary seat belt enforcement are: Alabama; Alaska; California; Connecticut; Delaware; Georgia; Hawaii; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Michigan; Mississippi; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; Oklahoma; Oregon; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; and Washington.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured or killed in a car accident, there are certain things you can do to help protect your rights. Our Florida injury lawyers and car accident attorneys offer free appointments to discuss your rights at offices conveniently located throughout Southwest Florida, including Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Arcadia, Sebring, Port Charlotte and Venice.