Two new laws impacting Alabama’s drivers took effect on Sunday.
First, all occupants in passenger vehicles, adults and children, must now wear seat belts. Previously, only those in the front seat and children in the back seat not already required, by weight or age, to ride in a car seat or booster seat had to buckle up.
Failure for a back-seat occupant to wear a seat belt is a secondary infraction under the new law — meaning a police officer, deputy or trooper can’t stop a vehicle solely for that reason, but you can get a ticket for that if you’re pulled over for something else. (Failure for a front-seat occupant to wear a seat belt is a primary infraction.)
There always will be holdouts who think it’s not the government’s business to “play nanny” and keep them safe or infringe on their right to willingly risk the consequences of their actions. To them we’ll simply point out these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: (a.) Seat belt usage reduces the risk of death by 45% and serious injury by 50% for drivers and front-seat passengers; (b.) those not wearing seatbelts are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle, which is fatal 3 out of 4 times.
We’ll add this from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — motor vehicle accidents drain this country’s economy by nearly $900 billion a year.
So the consequences aren’t just yours. Buckle up (like 92.9% of Alabamians did in 2017, according to NHTSA).
Second, Alabama drivers now can ride in the left lane on an interstate for just 1.5 miles without passing anyone, before they risk getting a ticket. (There will be a 60-day grace period when warnings rather than citations will be issued.)
The idea is to prevent incidents of road rage caused when cars poke along in the left lane and faster drivers stack up behind them, impeding the traffic flow.
We realize -- law enforcement and the sponsors of the law likely do, as well -- that some drivers will use this law to exceed posted speed limits. We hope it doesn’t get out of hand, but enforcement should be left to people with sirens and badges, not to drivers stubbornly and unsafely trying to make a point or impose their will on everyone else.
We also acknowledge the argument that traveling in the left lane ensures a smoother ride, given the condition of a lot of interstate right lanes. (Perhaps some funding from the gasoline tax increase that also took effect Sunday could be directed there.)
The notion that the left lane should be reserved for passing, however, isn’t new. The Uniform Vehicle Code specifically states that any car traveling “below the normal speed of traffic” — there’s no mention of speed limits — should stay in the right lane.
Safe driving requires some give and take, and this is one of those situations. If someone’s traveling faster than you, stay right and let ’em go. This isn’t Talladega and you’re not going to get a trophy or cash for keeping them behind you.
A version of this editorial first appeared in The Gadsden Times.