Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Safety checkpoints to target seat-belt usage

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Fifteen hundred safety checkpoints will be set up by Kentucky law enforcement in coming weeks to ticket people not wearing seat belts, even though the legislature has repeatedly declined to make it a primary offense.

        “This is terrible,” said Rep. Woody Allen, R-Morgantown. “It's not the intent of the legislation because people don't want that to be a primary reason to stop.”

        Kentucky law requires people in a motor vehicle made since 1965 that carries fewer than 10 people to wear seat belts. But it is a secondary offense: A ticket can be issued only if the vehicle is stopped for another reason.

        Kentucky State Police Deputy Commissioner Linda Smith said the safety checkpoints will be the reason for stopping vehicles. Tickets will be issued for not wearing seat belts even if there is no other violation found. The ticket carries a potential $25 fine. The fine for not having a child under 40 inches tall in an approved safety seat is up to $50.

        The state police advocated a bill to make seat belt usage a primary offense last session, but it failed. Rep. Jodie Haydon, D-Bardstown, sponsored the legislation and said he was a little uncomfortable with using a safety stop as a pretense for issuing a seat belt ticket.

        “I'm reluctant to criticize state police for wanting to encourage people to buckle up,” Mr. Haydon said. “However, I'm a little surprised.”

        Nonmoving violations also carry court costs and fees of up to $60, in addition to the fine. The fees and costs vary by county.

        Mr. Allen wondered if the effort was related to the state's General Fund shortfall. “It'll mean quite a few dollars to them too,” he said.

        The seat belt effort, dubbed “Click it or ticket,” will be accompanied by a large-scale advertising campaign to encourage their use.

        Mr. Allen said people should wear seat belts, but targeting people for enforcement on that topic alone is going too far.

        “This is wrong,” Mr. Allen said. “I'm sure it will be addressed in the legislature.”

        The state police organized an elaborate event to announce the safety effort, which will be conducted at more than 1,500 checkpoints from May 21 to June 3.

        Gov. Paul Patton said the time could be approaching when seat belt use should be made grounds for stopping a vehicle.

        Just under 60 percent of Kentucky drivers use seat belts. Sixty-five percent of the fatalities on Kentucky highways last year were people not wearing seat belts.


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