Maine police oppose higher seat-belt fines

| 3/24/2005

Maine’s police chiefs have done an about face on Gov. John Baldacci’s proposal to boost the fines for failure to buckle up.

Two months ago, The Maine Chiefs of Police Association gave the thumbs up to the governor’s call for a primary seat-belt law. Currently, police cannot ticket drivers older than age 17 for seat-belt violations unless they are first pulled over for another reason, such as speeding or having a bad taillight.

The measure, part of Baldacci’s two-year budget proposal, also would more than triple the fine for failing to wear a seat belt, from $65 to $212.

Police chiefs now support a competing initiative that would give officers the same power without increasing fines.

“We feel that kind of a jump … is a little exorbitant,” said Brunswick Police Chief Jerry Hinton, the association’s president.

Hinton told the Portland Press Herald officers already have difficulty with drivers getting belligerent when issued tickets. Jacking up the seat-belt fines would only make it worse, he said.

The higher fines would generate a projected $650,000 in each year of the governor’s $5.7 billion, two-year budget

A bill offered by Sen. Christine Savage, R-Union, also would make failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense. However, it would keep the fine for anyone found in violation at $65.

The Senate tabled Savage’s bill – LD80 – after it passed from the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. It could still be brought up for further consideration.