Wednesday, March 23, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
CARSON CITY — An estimated 93 percent of Nevadans buckle up in the car, but there are calls in the state Legislature for a tougher seat belt law.
Brian LaVoie of Las Vegas told the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday that it is time “for Nevada to stop this terrible epidemic of our children dying in car crashes because they know that they don’t really have to wear a seat belt.”
LaVoie’s 18-year-old daughter, Hillary, was killed when she was thrown from a car that flipped over in September 2010 in Churchill County.
The present law allows police to write a driver or passenger a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only if stopped for another offense. A proposed bill in the Senate would let officers stop a car just if they see somebody not wearing a seat belt and issue a citation.
Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, argued that making failure to wear seat belts a primary offense will not improve safety. She said she has lived in other states with a primary seat belt law and the compliance was less than 91 percent.
Chuck Reider, chief safety engineer for the state Department of Transportation, said that 32 percent of the 524 traffic fatalities from 2005 to 2009 involved people not wearing a seat belt.
The average hospital bill for those injured while not wearing a seat belt was $98,210 compared to $68,953 of those injured while buckled up.
Dr. John Fildes, who works in the trauma center at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, said he doubts there is a 93 percent seat belt usage. He said he sees the human cost of not wearing seat belts — patients who are disabled and won’t be able to support themselves or their families.
The committee continued the hearing until Thursday, when some opponents of the bill will testify.
Rebecca Gasca, legislative and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, calls it a “dangerous bill.”
In her prepared testimony, she said the bill “will do nothing to increase public safety and could erode the privacy and personal freedom of Nevada citizens.”
Gasca said the bill raises the risk of harassment and racial profiling of motorists by law enforcement officers.
Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, said he hasn’t made up his mind whether to support the bill. But he questioned whether the proposed primary law could apply to those under 18 years old.
Safety officials said young men between 16 and 25 have the highest rate of non-usage of seat belts.