Oklahoma bill would protect seat-belt violators from arrest

| 4/22/2003

An Oklahoma lawmaker has amended legislation intended to ensure drivers cannot be arrested for failure to wear seat belts.

State Rep. Thad Balkman, R-Norman, attached an amendment earlier this month to SB391. The amendment provides that any driver stopped in Oklahoma for a traffic violation – such as failure to wear a seat belt – “shall be released at the scene.”

Balkman said in a statement that anyone found to be driving without a valid driver's license or driving while intoxicated would be exempt from the protection.

His proposal stems from an incident in Texas that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1997, a mother and her children were driving through a residential area in Lago Vista, TX, looking for a lost toy, when a police officer pulled them over for not wearing seat belts, Balkman said. The officer handcuffed the woman in front of her children, impounded her pickup and took her to the police station, where her “mug shot” photo was taken and she was locked in a cell for about an hour. She was released from custody after posting $310 bond and paying $110 to retrieve her vehicle.

The amended version of the bill raced through the House by a 99-1 vote on April 14 and was returned to the Senate.