Archive for Thursday, January 3, 2008

Police begin ticketing in teen seat belt law

In September 2007, Lansing Police Officer Brian Duncan, right, was handing out dollar bills near Lansing High School to students wearing their seat belts while driving. Now, with enforcement of a new law beginning Jan. 1, Duncan and other police officers may be writing tickets to teens ages 14-17 - drivers and passengers - who aren't buckled up.

In September 2007, Lansing Police Officer Brian Duncan, right, was handing out dollar bills near Lansing High School to students wearing their seat belts while driving. Now, with enforcement of a new law beginning Jan. 1, Duncan and other police officers may be writing tickets to teens ages 14-17 - drivers and passengers - who aren't buckled up.

January 3, 2008

Law enforcement officers have started writing tickets if they find teenagers aren't wearing their seat belts.

Changes in Kansas seat belt laws went into effect in July, requiring all drivers and passengers who are ages 14 through 17 to buckle up - no matter where they are sitting in the vehicle.

Since then, there has been a grace period during which officers spent time educating the public instead of writing tickets, Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Edna Buttler said. As of Jan. 1, however, the ink pens and the ticket pads are coming out. Ticket price: $60.

"They've had a long time to prepare," Buttler said of teen drivers.

Now, officers can stop a vehicle if they see a teenage driver isn't wearing a seat belt, even if no other traffic violations are observed. Previously, not wearing a seat belt was a secondary violation and drivers could not be stopped solely for that reason.

In mid-December, the state sent reminders about the law to high schools, said Chris Bortz, assistant bureau chief for traffic safety with the Kansas Department of Transportation. Posters also were sent.

"We're hoping they made announcements at the schools," Bortz said. "We were hoping to catch them right before Christmas break."

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Kansas teens who are between 15 and 18 years old.

"It takes five seconds or less to buckle your seat belt, which could make the difference of a lifetime," KDOT Secretary Deb Miller said in the news release.

During 2008, the state will conduct a compliance study to see whether teens are obeying the seat belt law. Observers will check locations where teens can be found in 20 counties Bortz said.

Generally that will be around high schools. Observers will watch from along the streets near four-way stops and other locations where traffic is slow, Bortz said.

"It's very reliable. So many vehicles have seat belts and shoulder harnesses, so it is easy to see," he said.

In Lansing, Police Chief Steve Wayman said he didn't anticipate a problem with teens adhering to the law.

"A lot of the teens we see driving around actually are wearing their seat belts," he said. "The younger drivers seem to be more responsible with seat belts; they've been wearing them for years. That tells me their parents did a good job setting a good example by buckling up."

The state law has not changed for adults. Adult drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to buckle up, but passengers in the back seat are not. If an adult is driving, an officer must still see another violation before the driver can be stopped.

Adults should be a model of seat belt use for their children, Miller said.

"Adults should lead children by example by buckling up every trip, every time they ride in a vehicle and by asking other adults to do the same," she said.

- Editor John Taylor contributed to this report

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