LINCOLN — One of the first bills introduced Thursday in the Nebraska Legislature could give some new meaning to the ubiquitous “Click It or Ticket” campaigns.
Legislative Bill 10 would make violation of seat belt laws a primary offense. That means law enforcement officers could stop and ticket drivers solely for not buckling up.
Under current law, drivers can be ticketed for failing to use a seat belt only after they have been stopped for some other violation.
State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, the bill's sponsor, said the change would save lives.
“If it's not primary, how serious are we about safety?” he asked. “The hazard has been demonstrated throughout the years.”
Krist said he was motivated to introduce the bill by a driver safety course he took after being stopped for speeding in a construction zone last April.
What he learned there opened his eyes, he said.
Along with prompting him to slow down, the course got him interested in taking another stab at tightening the state's 20-year-old seat belt law.
He's not the only lawmaker looking at seat belt laws.
Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff plans to introduce a seat belt bill in the next few days.
Like Krist, he wants to make seat belt violations a primary offense. But Harms also wants to raise the fine for violations to $100, up from the current $25.
Both senators would require all passengers, not just children and those in the front seat, to be buckled up.
Harms has offered similar bills in previous years.
He said he is trying again because the number of deaths continues to mount.
“I know all the arguments because I've heard them before, but it's truly a safety issue for me,” Harms said.
About 70 percent of those who die in Nebraska motor vehicle accidents are not wearing seat belts or using car seats, according to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety.
That has held true for two decades, even though seat belt use has grown and most people use the belts.
Last year, 79 percent of people in vehicles used seat belts, according to highway safety office statistics.
By contrast, use of car seats for children was at 96 percent. Drivers can be stopped and ticketed for not having children up to age 6 in safety seats.
Rose White, a spokeswoman for AAA Nebraska, said states that have made the switch from a secondary to primary offense have seen seat belt use jump by 10 percent or more.
“We feel that the public support certainly is in our favor,” she said.
Krist said he is optimistic about the bill's chances because he believes the climate has changed.
Previous efforts to tighten seat belt laws have run into opposition from Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has raised concerns about violations being used as an excuse for racial profiling.
Other senators have argued that people should have the freedom to decide whether to wear seat belts.
This year, a coalition of safety groups, insurance companies and health care providers hope to push the measure through.
Another bill introduced Thursday would ease up a bit on traffic laws.
Offered by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, LB 85 would allow motorcyclists to run red lights if they don't change within two minutes and the way is clear.
Schumacher said bikers have told him that motorcycles are too small to trip automatic traffic-light signals.
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