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Seatbelt use becomes mandatory (new law)

Published (5/29/2009)
By Mike Cook
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Rep. Kim Norton, House sponsor of the primary seatbelt law, gets a congratulatory hug from Rep. Patti Fritz after the bill was passed May 18 by the House. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)Everybody in a motor vehicle will need to buckle up or they could be paying financially.

Sponsored by Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) and Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), a new law makes failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense, thereby allowing issuance of citations solely based on a seatbelt violation. Previously, a person had to be stopped for another offense before a no-seatbelt citation could be issued.

The law, effective June 9, 2009, requires everyone in a passenger vehicle to wear a seat belt, and extends the seat belt law to drivers and passengers of commercial motor vehicles, type III school buses and type III Head Start buses.

A $25 fine is to be assessed to the driver for failure to wear a seatbelt, and the driver is subject to a $25 fine per violation for each unbuckled passenger under age 15. Passengers age 15 and above are subject to their own fine. A violation will not appear on the person’s driving record.

Supporters of the primary seatbelt law say it is about saving lives, reducing injuries and saving significant hospital costs. Norton said children in a vehicle are restrained about 90 percent of the time when a driver buckles up, compared to 25 percent when a driver does not fasten his or her seatbelt.

Opponents said the law eliminates personal choice, can increase racial profiling and gives law enforcement another reason to pull someone over.

An estimated 87 percent of Minnesotans now wear a seatbelt during daytime hours, with fewer doing so at night. Supporters think the law will increase compliance to 93 percent or 95 percent.

Norton said passage of the law puts Minnesota in line for $3.4 million from the federal government for transportation safety programs.

The law also permits a driver to exceed the speed limit by 10 mph when passing another vehicle going the same direction on a two-lane highway with a speed limit of at least 55 mph. The provision comes from HF464/SF601, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm).

Three provisions related to primary seatbelt law are included in a MnDOT housekeeping law (HF878*/SF746/CH168): an exemption for newspaper delivery carriers; a provision that only one surcharge can be applied per stop, no matter how many passengers are unbuckled; and naming the law the “Kathryn Swanson Seat Belt Safety Act.” The former director of the Office of Traffic Safety and seatbelt advocate, Swanson died in February 2008 after a two-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at age 53.


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