Feb 272007
Authors: James Holt

The Colorado Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make driving without a seat belt a primary offense.

Bill sponsor Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, is scheduled to introduce Senate Bill 151 to the House next week.

The purpose of the bill is to increase usage of restraining devices in vehicles to save lives in automobile accidents.

“It will save lives and save money,” said Sen. Peter Groff, D-Adams, on Monday.

According to Groff, similar bills have saved “hundreds if not thousands of lives” in other states.

California, Hawaii and Texas are among the 25 states that already have primary offense seat belt statutes.

“Seat belts save lives. That’s pretty much a documented fact,” said Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, citing the success of the “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

The movement is an effort spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Transportation to raise awareness of seat belt safety.

Sponsors said the bill would save an estimated $72.5 million in Medicaid tax dollars over the next 10 years. It would also secure approximately $14 million in federal highway funds for Colorado that are granted to states that adopt primary offense safety belt legislation.

Currently, driving without a seat belt is only a secondary offense. If a law enforcement officer pulls a driver over for a different violation and subsequently notices the driver is neglecting to use a safety belt, the officer can add safety belt negligence to the ticket. Police are not allowed to pull drivers over for only neglecting safety belt use.

By making it a primary offense, officers will be able to pull drivers over with safety belt negligence as the driver’s only infraction, punishable as a Class-B infraction.

SB151 specifies that law enforcers must be able to clearly observe the restraining device violation and be able to articulate that the restraining device was unfastened.

Not only drivers would be required to wear safety belts, but also certain children and all front seat passengers. In addition, the bill modifies the age, height and weight requirements for certain children who are otherwise required to be fastened in a child restraint system.

Despite being passed by the State Senate, the fate of the bill is still under inspection by the House. If approved by the House, the governor must sign the bill into law or veto it.

“This same bill, or similar bills, have failed four out of the five last sessions on very close votes,” Rice said.

According to Williams, last year’s bill lost by only one vote.

“It tends to break down along party lines,” Rice said. In general, Democrats have been for the bill and Republicans have been against it.

Rice identifies concern for civil liberties and fear of racial profiling and “bad cops” as the primary reasons people give for opposing the bill.

According to Williams, the bill has been turned down in the past because “people don’t want the government telling them what to do.”

Ben Prytherch, a senior economics major and treasurer of the Libertarian party at CSU, is against the bill.

“Government does have a cause in protecting children,” he said. “Once you become an adult you’re responsible for all your decisions yourself. It’s not the government’s job to protect adults.”

Jason Gott, a junior mechanical engineering major, disagrees.

“I think it is a good idea,” he said. “People driving without seat belts can get killed.”

Staff Writer James Holt can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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