Kentucky lawmakers call for stricter seat-belt rules

| 2/9/2006

In hopes of boosting the state’s 66 percent seat-belt usage rate, two Kentucky state lawmakers are pursuing efforts to permit police to pull over drivers who are not buckled up.

Existing state law prohibits law enforcement officers to stop drivers solely for not wearing seat belts. To issue seat-belt citations, officers must first stop drivers for another violation, such as speeding.

Rep. Charlie Hoffman, D-Georgetown, and Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, are the bill sponsors.

Hoffman’s bill includes a provision that would prohibit law enforcement from setting up roadblocks solely to check for seat-belt violations. It also would prohibit points from being assessed against the driver’s license.

Hoffman told The Courier-Journal in Louisville that he expects the bills to be combined into one, debated by the House by early next month and considered by the Senate before the session wraps up in April.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Adams said the cabinet “is ready to aggressively support” a measure that would allow primary enforcement of the state’s seat-belt rules. He also noted that $11.2 million in federal highway funds are at risk if the state fails to approve a primary enforcement bill by Dec. 31, 2008.

The federal highway funding legislation approved by Congress last year gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules or achieves a two-year belt usage rate of 85 percent by Dec. 31, 2008, one-time federal grant money equal to 500 percent of the state’s annual highway funding.

The idea has drawn consideration in the state for several years, but hasn’t received backing from gubernatorial administrations, including Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

But the governor has since changed his tune.

“Folks,” Fletcher said, “it’s time for a primary seat-belt law in Kentucky.”

In addition to securing federal funds, the governor said a primary law could save 62 lives in the first year.

Hoffman’s bill – HB86 – is in the House Transportation Committee. Wilkey’s bill – HB106 – also is in the House Transportation Committee.