Tougher seat-belt law considered in Colorado

| 2/1/2006

After falling one vote shy of approving a bill to permit police in Colorado to pull over drivers who are not buckled up a year ago, a state lawmaker has renewed the effort.

In 2005, House lawmakers voted 32-32 on the bill’s passage, falling one vote short of sending it to Gov. Bill Owens. The Senate had previously approved the measure.

Rep. Fran Coleman, D-Denver, is hopeful a primary law for seat-belt enforcement can pick up the vote needed for passage this year. Currently, police can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation.

Drivers found in violation would face a $15 fine. No points would be assessed against the drivers’ licenses.

To adopt the stricter provision, Coleman will have to contend with those who say it will lead to racial profiling.

“I can’t 100 percent guarantee” that any traffic stop isn’t racially motivated, Coleman told the Rocky Mountain News. But she said she would prefer to have people stopped for whatever reason as long as it saves lives.

The effort is expected to get a good long look from legislators. Colorado’s roads and bridges stand to lose out on millions in federal funding if the state fails to approve a primary enforcement bill by Dec. 31, 2008.

The Highway Bill signed by President Bush in August 2005 gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules or achieves a belt usage rate of 85 percent one-time federal grant money for roads. Colorado, with a usage rate of 79 percent, could claim $12 million, The Denver Post reported.

Colorado is one of 27 states without the stricter provision. Legislators in some of those states, however, have brought up bills this year to add their state to the list of 22 that already 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.

HB1125 is in the House Transportation and Energy Committee.