Vermont lawmakers at odds about seat-belt law

| 2/21/2006

Debate is expected to heat up in Vermont as lawmakers discuss competing efforts on whether to allow police to pull over drivers who are not buckled up.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, has introduced a bill that would create a primary law for seat-belt enforcement.

Currently, police in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

Violators would face a $25 fine. Subsequent offenses would result in higher fines – the same as current state law. No points would be assessed against the driver’s license.

Campbell’s effort is being opposed by bipartisan legislation that would maintain Vermont’s secondary enforcement rule and also ban police from setting up roadblocks to nab drivers who are not belted.

Sens. Mark Shepard, R-Bennington, and Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, say the state’s “Click It or Ticket” roadblocks violate drivers’ civil liberties and their protection from unreasonable searches, The Associated Press reported.

Gov. James Douglas is opposed to changing the seat-belt law.

Vermont already has one of the nation’s highest rates of seat-belt use – nearly 85 percent, Douglas said.

The effort is expected to get a good long look from legislators. Vermont’s roads and bridges stand to lose out on federal funding 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 one-time federal grant money for roads. Vermont potentially could claim $3.7 million.

Vermont is one of 25 states without the stricter provision. Twenty-four states, including Alaska and Mississippi who recently adopted stricter rules, 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.

Campbell’s bill – S193 – is in the Senate Transportation Committee. Shepard and Starr’s bill – S263 – also is in the Senate Transportation Committee.