Mandatory seat-belt rule OK'd in Alaska

| 2/17/2006

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski has signed a bill into law permitting police to pull over drivers not wearing their seat belts.

Existing state law limits police from issuing seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

The new rule creates a primary law for seat-belt enforcement and brings the state in line to claim additional federal highway funding.

Violators would face a $60 fine – the same as current state law.

The seat-belt law narrowly passed the Senate and House, where lawmakers raised concerns about infringing on drivers’ privacy and the possibility of random vehicle stoppages.

The new law applies only on highways and qualifies the state for $3.7 million in one-time federal grant money for roads.

The federal highway funding legislation approved by Congress this past 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.

On the same day Murkowski put pen to paper on the stricter seat-belt law, he proposed legislation that would allow state officials to designate dangerous stretches of highway as a “traffic safety corridor.”

Under the designation, speeding and other violations would carry double the normal fines.

The Alaska Department of Transportation would be responsible for identifying problem stretches of highway.

Road signs would be posted at the beginning and end of each corridor warning drivers that they are in a traffic-safety zone.

The governor’s proposal doesn’t specify the criteria for designating the traffic-safety area, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Mike Barton, the agency’s commissioner, said officials would look at various statistics to determine the safety zones, including the number and frequency of accidents and deaths.