Seat belt initiatives meet resistance from states

| Thursday, March 20, 2003

Efforts by states to toughen seat belt laws are meeting resistance as lawmakers in several states balk at more aggressive enforcement and drivers face stiff fines, USA Today reported.

Five states have rebuffed stricter enforcement measures this year. In Washington state, a law that produced 58,000 tickets with $86 fines in its first six months has brought about a drive to repeal it.

All states except New Hampshire have laws requiring drivers to buckle up. The fuss is over enforcement.

Thirty-one states treat violations as “secondary offenses,” the newspaper reported. That means police officers cannot ticket drivers for failure to wear a seat belt unless they are pulled over for another traffic violation. Eighteen states consider a seat belt violation as a “primary offense,” permitting police to pull over drivers for not buckling up. Primary-enforcement states average 80 percent seat belt use; states with secondary laws average 69 percent.

Primary-enforcement bills have been introduced in at least 16 states this year, according to NHTSA. Most are pending, but measures have been rejected in North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Utah.

NHTSA rewards states that increase the level of seat belt use. It has handed out $50.5 million this year to 32 states, USA Today reported. The agency urges states to launch high-profile seat belt campaigns called “Click It or Ticket.”

Washington state passed such a law last year, and surveys showed 93 percent of drivers buckling up, the nation's highest rate. But the flood of tickets has triggered a campaign for a statewide vote to repeal it. The campaign's slogan: “Click It and Stick It.”

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