State Patrol to continue emphasis on seat belt law despite ruling
by 3 judges of its unconstitutionality - More than 100,000 tickets
Tacoma News Tribune
Washington's "Click It or Ticket" crackdown is a year old,
and has nailed more than 100,000 motorists for not using seat belts
and child safety restraints.
A year ago last week, the Legislature made Washington one of 19 states
where law enforcement can pull over a motorist just for not buckling
up. In the other states, that's considered a secondary offense, and
the motorist is cited only if pulled over for another violation, such
A "Click It" ticket is $86.
The State Patrol said Monday that the one-year emphasis has brought
dramatic results. From June of last year through May, troopers logged
106,774 violators. Tickets were issued to 84,619, and the rest were
given oral or written warnings.
In the previous year, the comparable numbers were 68,109 violations,
including 50,224 tickets.
The growth reflects both the new law and "more internal emphasis
on making this one of our primary goals, one of our core missions,"
said Trooper Kurt Adkinson.
Surveys show greater compliance with the law, about 93 percent, up
from 81 percent before the law passed last year, says the Washington
Traffic Safety Commission.
Motorists use seat belts about 94 percent of the time in cars and
sport utility vehicles, 91 percent of the time in vans and 89 percent
of the time in pickups.
State officials say greater use of seat belts could explain why the
troopers saw 13 percent fewer collision-related injuries last year.
Seat belts and air bags have made crashes survivable that would have
been fatal in the past, said Steve Romines, director of Medic One
in Thurston County.
The National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration say the states where troopers treat seat belt infractions
as a primary offense have a higher average usage rate, 82 percent
versus 69 percent in the other states, and a somewhat lower traffic
The Washington Seatbelt Coalition, which is sponsoring an initiative
to overturn the new law, questions the use of quotas by some police
agencies to get federal grant money.
"You look past all the hype from the state, it's amazing that
the number of people who died last year is actually higher than the
year before," said coalition leader Roy Ruffino. He referred
to the 659 traffic deaths last year, compared with 649 a year earlier.
The Traffic Safety Commission said the increase was due to more fatalities
involving bicyclists and that there were 27 fewer fatalities during
the last half of 2002 than in same period in 2001.
Judges in Snohomish, Pacific and Skagit counties have invalidated
the law as unconstitutional.
After the Snohomish County decision last Friday, patrol Capt. Glenn
Cramer told The (Everett) Herald newspaper, "Certainly, we respect
the court's decision. We believe this is a public safety issue, and
we will continue with our enforcement practice."
The ruling by Judge Ronald Castleberry will be appealed, said Deputy
Prosecutor Seth Fine.
On the Net
• State Patrol: www.wsp.wa.gov
• Traffic Safety: www.wa.gov/wtsc