Montana bill would strengthen seat-belt law

| 3/19/2007

Drivers who don't wear their seat belts could be pulled over under legislation approved in the Montana Senate.

Currently, police can issue seat-belt citations to drivers in the state only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding. The Senate voted 29-21 to advance a bill to the House that would allow officers to stop drivers for not buckling up.

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Cooney, D-Helena, the bill also would allow for drivers to be pulled over if a child is not properly restrained.

Opponents cite personal choice and the potential for racial profiling among the concerns about the stricter enforcement effort. Supporters say saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

The 2005 federal Highway Bill gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules or achieves a belt usage rate of 85 percent one-time federal grant money for roads. Montana, with a usage rate of 80 percent, could claim $4.8 million.

Montana is one of 25 states without the stricter provision. Twenty-four states 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.

The Montana bill - SB300 - has been forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee.