Seat belt law change takes effect
As of Tuesday, law enforcement officers will be able to cite all drivers and passengers who are ages 14 through 17 for not wearing seat belts. Eudora Police Chief Greg Dahlem said the new law might not be easy to enforce.
"It's going to be hard," he said. "Basically, what it will boil down to is if we have someone stopped for a violation and the officer makes contact with the driver and realizes the age of the driver falls under the guidelines, then they could be cited."
Changes in Kansas seat belt laws went into effect in July. Since then, there has been a grace period during which Kansas Highway Patrol officers spent time educating the public instead of writing tickets, Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Edna Buttler said. Now the ink pens and the ticket pads are coming out. Ticket price: $60.
"They've had a long time to prepare," Buttler said of teen drivers.
Now, officers can stop a vehicle if they see a teenage driver isn't wearing a seat belt, even if no other traffic violations are observed. Previously, not wearing a seat belt was a secondary violation and drivers could not be stopped solely for that reason.
In mid-December, the state sent reminders about the law to high schools, said Chris Bortz, assistant bureau chief for traffic safety with the Kansas Department of Transportation. Posters also were sent.
"We're hoping they made announcements at the schools," Bortz said. "We were hoping to catch them right before Christmas break."
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Kansas teens who are between 15 and 18 years old.
"It takes five seconds or less to buckle your seat belt, which could make the difference of a lifetime," KDOT Secretary Deb Miller said in the news release.
During 2008, the state will conduct a compliance study to see whether teens are obeying the seat belt law. Observers will check locations where teens can be found in 20 counties, including Douglas County, Bortz said.
Generally that will be around high schools. Observers will watch from along the streets near four-way stops and other locations where traffic is slow, Bortz said.
"It's very reliable. So many vehicles have seat belts and shoulder harnesses, so it is easy to see," he said.
The state law has not changed for adults. Adult drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to buckle up, but passengers in the back seat are not. If an adult is driving, an officer must still see another violation before the driver can be stopped.
"Regardless of the age, it's very important," Dahlem said. "It's saved more lives than it's lost, so whether you're 14 or 84, you should wear it."
Adults should be a model of seat belt use for their children, Miller said.
"Adults should lead children by example by buckling up every trip, every time they ride in a vehicle and by asking other adults to do the same," she said.
- David Oakes contributed to this report.