Stricter seat-belt rule signed in Kentucky

| 4/19/2006

In hopes of boosting the state’s 66 percent seat-belt usage rate, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed a bill into law Tuesday, April 18, that will 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, drivers must first be stopped for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

The stricter seat-belt rule takes effect in July. Violators will receive warnings – not tickets – until Jan. 1, 2007.

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 calling for increased testing to detect lead poisoning among children.

The multifaceted measure – HB117 – prohibits law enforcement from setting up roadblocks solely to check for seat-belt violations. It also prohibits points from being assessed against the driver’s licenses of those who receive seat-belt citations.

The new rule will allow the state to claim $11.2 million in federal highway funds. The federal government has been holding onto the funds until the state approved a primary enforcement law.

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.