Tougher seat belt rules now law in Maine

| 5/11/2007

Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill into law permitting police to pull over drivers in the state for not wearing their seat belts. Currently, police in the state can ticket drivers for not buckling up only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding or a bad taillight.

The new law, previously LD24, allows for primary enforcement of the state’s seat-belt rule. A provision was added to the bill in the House that prohibits law enforcement from inspecting or searching vehicles and occupants solely because of failure to buckle up.

The stricter enforcement takes effect this summer. Violators will get off with warnings until April 1, 2008.

Once fully implemented, violators would face $50 fines for a first offense while repeat offenders would be responsible for $125 fines. All subsequent offenses would be $250 fines – the same amounts as existing state law.

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

Passage of the bill allows the state to claim a one-time payment from the federal government. 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 grant money equal to 500 percent of the highway funding they received in 2003.

Maine has a seat-belt usage rate of nearly 76 percent.

There are 24 states without a primary seat-belt law. With Maine on board, there are 25 states that 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.