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Victims of driving accidents held up as incentment for stricter driving laws

February 22, 2000
By: Dan Shaw
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1250

JEFFERSON CITY - Phaedra Marriott taught a preschool class. Then her car was hit by a driver whose blood alcohol content was .08.

Now, confined to a wheelchair since 1996, Marriott's picture will be used on billboards to teach legislators the effects of drunken driving.

"My life has been changed and will be this way forever. I will never walk again because of that drunk driver," Marriott said at a news conference where Mothers Against Drunk Driving unveiled its billboard campaign.

Four signs will be posted in Jefferson City, reading: Dear Legislator: "You don't always die at .08... Sometimes you just can't walk away."

Paula Kanyo, executive director of MADD, said of the billboards, "Hopefully it will be a strong statement for letting legislators know there are people here who want .08 passed."

Marriott was just one of the car accident victims cited at the State Capitol Tuesday to illustrate the need for improved safety on Missouri roads.

Just after noon, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan invoked the recent death of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Derrick Thomas to argue police should be allowed to stop motorists who fail to wear a seat belt.

Carnahan, who supports lowering the legal BAC, said lives would also be saved by allowing police to pull over anyone seen not wearing a seat belt.

Of Thomas, Carnahan said, "He used his fame in so many ways to help others in life. Now here in Missouri we have the opportunity to learn from the lesson he taught us in death."

The bill would transform seat belt law into a primary offense, which means police wouldn't need another reason to stop a driver. A violation would still result in a ten dollar fine.

"If I can see your seat belt hanging from the post then I can pull you over," explained Weldon Wilhoit, superintendent of the Highway Patrol. "It must be clearly visible."

During a House committee hearing, however, two lawmakers expressed concerns about individual rights.

Rep. Carson Ross, the legislature's only black Republican, said the seat belt bill could result in racial profiling.

"Just because I might look a little differently is no reason for police to start stopping me, trying to find something wrong with me, handcuffing me, throwing me in the back seat, and then determining I did nothing wrong," said Ross, R-Blue Springs.

Rep. Ken Legan, R-Halfway, said he would not support the bill because his wife once survived a motor vehicle accident only because she was not wearing her seat belt. She was thrown away from the car.

"I believe in wearing seat belts. I just don't want it on my conscience if someone gets in an accident like my wife," Legan said.

Federal funding is hanging over the debate of both issues.

Congress is offering money for authorizing primary enforcement of seat belt laws. Also, if Missouri does not set the legal BAC at .08 the federal government could withhold highway funds.

According to the Highway Patrol, during 1998 about 4 percent of fatal accidents involved a driver with a BAC between .08 and .10.

"Today, the only important number is number one. If we have one less victim because we pass .08 we have a good law," said Mike Boland, a MADD volunterr.

When asked if a .08 law would have saved her, Marriott said, "If he was not at .08, I would not be in this chair today."