Oklahoma Legislature: House passes youth seat belt law; bill in Senate

Vicky O. Misa
State Rep. Dell Kerbs recently voted on HB2791; the bill is now in the Senate.

After a House vote Tuesday, Oklahoma is one step closer to having a child passenger safety law in place that would cover all minors — a regulation that is already law in all other states.

As HB 2791 was introduced to the House in February, every child 17 years of age or under would be required to be properly secured while being transported in a motor vehicle. A child between the age of 8 and 12 years of age is to be properly secured in a child restraint system, belt-positioning booster seat or seat belt. A child who is 13 years of age or older is to be properly secured in a seat belt.

On Tuesday, the House voted 78-18 to pass House Bill 2791, authored by Rep. Ross Ford, (R)-Dist 76, Broken Arrow.

State Rep. Dell Kerbs, (R)-Dist. 26, who voted in favor of the bill, said Oklahoma has had laws on the books that talk about seat belts for the front occupants in vehicles.

“There are statistics that show that youth occupying the back seat are as likely or more so to be injured or killed in an accident,” he said.

State Rep. Danny Sterling, (R)-Dist. 27, also voted in favor of the bill. State Rep. Zack Taylor, (R)-Dist. 28, voted against the bill.

According to AAA, Oklahoma ranks No. 50 in protecting children in car crashes, the No. 1 cause of death and injury to those eight and older in Oklahoma. “It is the only state in the nation without a law requiring children 8 and older to wear a seat belt when riding in the back seat,” the website Okseatbelts.org reads. “Right now only those under 8 years old are protected.”

A coalition of 36 state health, traffic safety and education organizations has worked to urge voters to contact their legislators in support of a law.

“In 2017, 67 children, 8–17, were injured and 16 were killed in Oklahoma who weren’t wearing seat belts,” AAA Oklahoma spokesperson Leslie Gamble said. “When there is a proven way to prevent many of these tragedies, we must make it law.”

AAA, Safe Kids Oklahoma and other traffic safety groups have been working for four years to get a bill passed to remedy the age gap in the law.

Gamble said while legislators say they personally support it and do buckle up their own youngsters, they have said voters would oppose the bill, viewing it as a personal rights infringement or mandate.

State Sen. Ron Sharp (R)-Dist. 17, said the Senate tends to fear Big Brother controlling all human behavior.

“Based on past history of the Senate, HB 2791 will have a difficult time,” he said. “Legislation relating to texting and child seat belt restraints have not been heard by Committee Chairs during the last few years.”

House Bill 2791 headed to the Senate Wednesday, where Sen. Darrell Weaver, (R)-Dist. 24, Moore, is carrying the bill.

As currently written, if the bill does pass the Senate and receives a signature from the Governor's desk, the Child Passenger Safety Act would become effective Nov. 1, 2020.

Watch for updates.