Vote on seat-belt law likely to be tight one

Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, might have a pivotal vote if the Colorado House votes next month on whether police can pull drivers over for not wearing seat belts.

Bradford, a freshman legislator, said Wednesday she had “some ambiguity” about the measure that would make driving without a seat belt a primary offense.

The measure passed the Senate Transportation Committee on a 4-3, party-line vote Tuesday and was expected to pass the full Senate today, where Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, opposed it. Penry said the Legislature “has taken the nanny-state to new highs” by trying to outlaw plastic grocery bags, prohibit the use of cell phones by drivers, and require businesses to give leave to employees.

“The current seat belt requirements are fine, but giving the police the power to make random stops to see whether you’re wearing your sear belt is unacceptable.” Penry said.

“I don’t like further government interference” in what should be a state matter, Bradford said.

At stake also, though, is $14 million in federal money that Colorado could use for highway improvements, she said.

“Do they forget this is the United States, 50 somewhat independent states?” Bradford said.

Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said he harbored similar doubts about the measure, but made up his mind to oppose it.

“Obviously seat belts save lives, and it’s important for everyone to wear a seat belt,” King said.

“The question is: How much government involvement do you want in your life to accomplish that goal?”

The House vote on the measure will be tight, King said, possibly as close as the vote on repealing the death penalty, which passed the House by a single vote.

The measure also poses some practical problems, he said, citing the difficulty officers would face in enforcing the law, such as tinted windows precluding them from getting a clear view of the driver.

The measure, Senate Bill 296, would require law enforcement officers to clearly observe that drivers are driving without seat belts before they can stop offending motorists.

Previous efforts to make driving without a seat belt a primary offense have foundered on questions about racial profiling.

Under the proposal, violators would be fined $75.

Bill supporters say it would save between 30 and 75 lives a year and save about $72 million in state Medicaid costs over 10 years.


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