Stricter seat-belt rule advances in Kentucky

| 3/28/2006

In hopes of boosting the state’s 66 percent seat-belt usage rate, the Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would permit police to pull over drivers who are not buckled up.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, revived the seat-belt effort to make failure to buckle up a primary offense.

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

The seat-belt provision and a requirement that children younger than age 16 wear helmets when riding all-terrain vehicles were added to a House-approved bill that would increase testing to detect lead poisoning among children.

The multifaceted measure – HB117 – now heads back to the House for further consideration. If approved, it would head to Gov. Ernie Fletcher for his signature.

As approved, the seat-belt provision 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.

The stricter seat-belt rule has the backing of Fletcher’s administration.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Adams 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.

Congress approved legislation a year ago that 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.

In addition to securing federal funds, the governor’s office said a primary law could save 62 lives in the first year. Opponents cited personal choice and the potential for racial profiling for their displeasure with the effort.