Alaska editorial: Buckle up or else, Alaska

Posted: Friday, February 03, 2006

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Alaskans have 90 days to get the message that buckling up is not only important, but also that the state is taking a stronger position on making sure people do it. After that 90 days has expired, a new law allowing people to be pulled over by authorities for a seat-belt violation takes effect.

It's a good law, which came into being with Gov. Frank Murkowski's signature on Tuesday. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Con Bunde of Anchorage.

Alaska now joins more than 20 other states in having what is referred to as a "primary seat belt law," meaning police officers and Alaska State Troopers don't have to treat a violation of the state's seat-belt law as something to be added after someone has been pulled over for violating some other law. Alaska has had a seat-belt law for some time; all the new law does is enhance its standing.

The governor, in signing Sen. Bunde's legislation, noted that an average of six additional lives will be saved each year because of the tougher stand on seat-belt use, and 70 instances of serious injury will be avoided. He also stated the cost savings to the state in medical care for those injured in vehicle accidents would total about $12 million annually.

The benefits are clear, and yet people will continue to grouse about having to wear a seat belt. Too much government interference, they'll say. And don't police have more important things to do than to sit and wait for seat-belt violators?

Fact is, there most likely won't be a rush of red lights and sirens chasing down seat-belt demons. Some people will get stopped and ticketed, no doubt.

And there's sufficient safeguard in the law to ensure that officers don't begin stopping drivers and then noticing those drivers aren't wearing a seat belt. The law states that, to successfully prosecute a case, the state would have to prove "the peace officer stopping or detaining the vehicle personally observed the violation ... before stopping or detaining the vehicle or otherwise had probable cause to stop or detain the vehicle."

The real value in this new law, however, is the public awareness that comes along with the threat of being pulled over for not buckling up.

Kudos to Sen. Bunde for the legislation and to the governor for signing it.

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