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Georgia Senate backs seat belts for pickups

ATLANTA - Adults in pickup trucks would finally have to buckle up, under a bill that sailed through the state Senate on Thursday.

Georgia is the only state in the nation that specifically exempts adults in pickups from wearing seat belts. That defiant stance has cost the state millions of dollars in federal highway funds.

The seat belt measure passed 49-4 on Thursday. It now moves to the House, which in recent years has thrown up a roadblock.

Former House Speaker Tom Murphy - himself a pickup driver - was a vocal opponent who refused to buckle up.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Don Thomas, a family physician for almost five decades, says he's seen the carnage from pickup accidents.

"There is a time to buckle up and that time is every time you get in your vehicle, regardless of what type of vehicle it is," the Republican from Dalton said.

The change has faced opposition from rural lawmakers who see it as an unnecessary intrusion and a burden for farmers who use pickups to haul hay and other supplies as part of their work.

The bill that passed on Thursday carves out an exception for those who are using a pickup 'in connection with agricultural pursuits.'

The federal government has long tied highway money to seat belt laws. Changing the law would win Georgia some $4 million in highway funds at a time when the state is struggling with a huge budget deficit. Supporters are hoping that budget crunch will give the bill added momentum this year.

The state could use the money on road safety programs and save an estimated $62 million each year in accident-related expenses such as medical costs, backers of the bill argue.