Primary seat-belt rule sought in Nebraska

| 8/27/2008

If a Nebraska state senator gets his way, failure to buckle up while driving would become a primary offense in the state.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff said he is planning to introduce a bill during the 2009 regular session to permit police to pull over drivers in the state for not wearing their seat belts. Currently, law enforcement in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another violation, such as speeding.

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 unwillingness by lawmakers to adopt the primary enforcement rule puts the state in jeopardy of missing out on $7.4 million in federal grant funding for roads and bridges.

The 2005 federal highway funding legislation gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules one-time grant money. The last chance for states to upgrade their seat belt law and access extra federal funding is Sept. 30, 2009.

Nebraska is one of 23 states without a primary seat-belt law. Twenty-six 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 of any kind.

All legislation in Nebraska can be considered during the legislative session that begins Jan. 7, 2009.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Nebraska in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor