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Police can now stop a motorist just for failing to buckle up
By ANNE AURAND
Anchorage Daily News
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Police across Alaska can now stop and ticket drivers who aren't wearing a seat belt.
Before a new, tougher seat belt law kicked off Monday, police could write tickets for people who failed to wear their seat belts only if they were pulled over for something else, like speeding, expired tags, running red lights.
Alaska becomes the 23rd state to have a primary seat belt law. The new law is meant to encourage more people to wear their seat belts, which have been legally required here since 1989.
At a media event Monday, troopers and Anchorage police said the tougher law will save lives and public money, and reduce serious injuries. It could also help cops find people who have outstanding warrants, if they get pulled over for not wearing a seat belt.
The Anchorage Police Department has been beefing up its traffic enforcement team for a couple of years. Those officers and Alaska State Trooper patrols around the state are now watching for dangling shoulder straps.
Police spokesman Paul Honeman said it's pretty easy to tell if someone isn't wearing a shoulder strap, and that's all the reason needed for a stop now.
If a car comes with a shoulder strap, it must be used, Honeman said. All cars made since the 1970s have built-in shoulder straps, he said. If there's only a lap belt in a car, that's all that's required.
Tickets can range from $15 to $60 depending on who pulls you over and what jurisdiction you're in: $15 is the state fine; $60 is the city's. It's $50 in Wasilla, troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.
Nearly 75 percent of the costs of car crashes are paid by people not involved in the accident through higher taxes, insurance premiums, medical and legal costs, according to Wilkinson.
The new law will also provide another way to catch bad guys, Wilkinson said. People who don't wear seat belts are more likely to have violated other laws, he said. Some may be wanted by the law for other crimes and could be discovered when stopped for the seat belt violation. Or, for example, if they are driving on a suspended license, officers want them off the streets.
He offered a 2005 study from Washington state's traffic safety commission, to back that up.
In Washington, 95 percent of drivers comply with the seat belt law, the study says. The remaining 5 percent of people, the ones who don't, are 1.4 times more likely to have had a DUI; and 1.4 times more likely to have a previous insurance violation. And, 70 percent of them have had prior suspensions or revocations of their licenses.
"The person may have a casual attitude toward the law," Wilkinson said.
Alaska 'Primary' seat belt law goes into effect