Proposed law may save lives

LISBON – A new law is being contemplated in response to the Jan. 19 fatal traffic accident near Gavers, where neither the two adults or four of the seven children passengers were wearing seat belts.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, whose district includes Columbiana County, announced this week in his online newsletter he is preparing a bill that would allow police to pull over vehicles if they see child passengers are not wearing a seat belt.

While current law requires children under the age of 15 to wear a seat belt or be in a car seat, it is a secondary offense, which means the driver can only be cited for a seat belt violation if pulled over for committing a primary traffic offense, such as speeding.

Schiavoni is working on legislation that would make it a primary offense for children under 15 to be riding in a vehicle without being properly restrained. This would allow law enforcement to pull over drivers if they see a seat belt or car seat violation rather than wait for a traffic offense to occur before taking action.

Schiavoni said the bill is in response to the aforementioned traffic accident that claimed the lives of James Nign and his wife, Meghann, and passenger Addisyn Benzel, 11, of Minerva.

The Nigns’ Chevrolet Equinox was struck head-on by a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Rachel K. Lindesmith after she reportedly went left of center. Lindesmith and her young son were wearing seatbelts and did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

In contrast, neither the Nigns nor four of the seven children passengers riding in their vehicle were wearing seat belts or otherwise restrained. This included three children riding in the Equinox’s cargo area and another sitting on Mrs. Nign’s lap in the front seat.

Lt. Joe Dragovich of the Lisbon Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol said at the time there is a possibility the victims may have survived had they been wearing seat belts.

In a recent story on WFMJ-TV, Dragovich reported that eight people have died in seven crashes in the county so far this year, and none of the victims were wearing seat belts.

“I have to count back over 27 dead bodies before I get to somebody who was buckled up and died in a crash. That’s taking us all the way back to February 2012,” he told WFMJ.

In preparing his bill, Schiavoni has met with representatives from the highway patrol, state Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement. He is also soliciting input from the public.