Washington state court upholds seat-belt law

| 10/15/2004

The Washington state Supreme Court has upheld the state’s seat-belt law, which allows

officers to stop vehicles if the driver’s only apparent offense is failure to wear a seat belt.

However, in the court’s opinion, released Thursday, Oct. 14,the court was less than complimentary about the wording of the law.

“Washington's seat belt law is hardly a model of clarity,” the justices wrote in their opinion. “However, we conclude that the statute is not facially void.”

The case involved a pickup truck that was stopped by a police officer in February 2003 when the officer noticed the driver was not using his seat belt. The officer smelled both alcohol and marijuana once the vehicle was stopped. One of the passengers admitted the marijuana, and when firearms were found he said they were his.

The passenger wanted the court to suppress that evidence because, he said, it was the result of a traffic stop made under the seat-belt law, which he contends is unconstitutional.

The court ruled against the pickup passenger.

Washington has a primary seat-belt law, which means officers can stop cars if the driver’s only offense is not wearing a seat belt. In states with a secondary seat-belt law, drivers can be cited for a seat-belt violation only if they were already stopped for some other traffic offense.