Montana bill would strengthen seat-belt law

| Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Drivers who don’t wear their seat belts could be pulled over under legislation in the Montana House.

Currently, law enforcement officers in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cooney, D-Helena, would change that to allow officers to stop drivers for not buckling up. Violators would be fined $20 – the same as current state law.

While supporters of a primary seat-belt law sometimes point to federal money the state would lose for failing to scrap its secondary law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says no direct grant funds are doled out for having a primary law.

However, there could be a $17 million perk for Montana to strengthen its law.

Jeffrey Runge, head of the NHTSA, said recently the federal government plans to offer a $17 million, one-time incentive to states that pass a primary law.

Montana is one of 28 states without the stricter provision. Twenty-one states allow police to pull over drivers solely for not wearing their seat belts. New Hampshire is the only state without a mandatory seat-belt law.

SB43 is in the House Judiciary Committee. It previously passed the Senate.