Washington State Patrol panhandling for seat-belt citations

| 12/8/2005

Here’s a quick note for drivers in Washington – if the panhandler seems more interested in your seat belt than your spare change, you might be in for a big surprise around the next corner.

To help catch drivers who refuse to buckle up, the Washington State Patrol is putting undercover officers on street corners and dressing them as panhandlers The Seattle Times reported. Armed with signs that read “Happy Holidays Buckle Up” and a two-way radio, officers are able to get a close-up view of drivers’ buckling habits, and radio ahead to officers waiting in patrol cars.

According to The Times, a recent effort of this sort in Spanaway , WA , netted 41 stops and 30 citations, each carrying a cost of $101. The state has had a primary seatbelt law since 2002, which allows law enforcement officers to pull over drivers for seatbelt violations.

While the undercover operation is not illegal, and WSP officials have argued that the initiative has helped increase seat-belt usage, opponents believe the program is an invasion of privacy.

“I’m not sure it’s great public policy,” John Strait , a professor at Seattle University , told The Times.