State Patrol to continue emphasis on seat belt law despite ruling by 3 judges of its unconstitutionality - More than 100,000 tickets handed out

The Associated Press
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 as speeding.

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 fatality rate.

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.

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