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Publish Date: 4/17/2005

House debates seat-belt crackdown
Proposal would let officers stop, ticket unbuckled drivers


DENVER — A proposal to allow law enforcement officers to pull over and ticket drivers not wearing seat belts prompted a fierce debate in Colorado’s House of Representatives on Friday.

Denver Democratic Rep. Fran Coleman and supporters of her House Bill 1138 argued it would save lives of passengers and drivers.

Foes of Coleman’s measure contended it could result in officers harassing motorists.

Greeley Democratic Rep. Jim Riesberg expressed his support for HB1138, saying it is one of several approaches to addressing a Weld County traffic-fatality problem in which “we set new records every year.”

“We don’t want to be the killing field that we are in Weld County,” Riesberg said.

Berthoud Republican Rep. Kevin Lundberg, however, said Coleman’s proposed law was an example of the “nanny government” approach of trying to micromanage Coloradans’ lives.

Lundberg suggested that someone might next want lawmakers to consider requiring people to strap themselves in with “bed belts” to prevent Coloradans from injuring themselves by falling out of bed — and to authorize police to enter homes to make sure that law is being obeyed.

“If you believe that tyranny is a good idea, I guess this is a great bill,” Lundberg said.

It’s already illegal in Colorado for motorists to operate a vehicle without the driver and all front-seat passengers wearing safety belts.

But that is now a “secondary” traffic offense, meaning that officers can only issue seat-belt tickets as the result of an accident investigation or after they’ve pulled a vehicle over for another violation.

Coleman’s bill would make it a “primary” traffic offense, allowing the officer to pull a vehicle over for that reason alone.

HB1138 also would make it a primary offense if a child between the ages of 4 and 6 is not properly restrained in a child booster seat or with a child safety belt-positioning device.

“Too many kids have died” after being ejected during car crashes, Coleman said. “We all know that.”

Riesberg argued that making seat-belt violations a primary offense could prompt more drivers to obey the law.

“What would happen if we had (running) red lights and stop signs as secondary offenses?” Riesberg asked.

An effort to kill Coleman’s bill died on a 32-32 vote Friday, and House members gave it preliminary approval. However, she’ll need at least a 33-vote majority before the measure can advance to the Senate.

“I can barely live with the law we have now,” said Loveland Republican Rep. Jim Welker.

Welker said he thought everyone should wear seat belts, but that “it should be a personal decision.”

But Westminster Democratic Rep. Ann Ragsdale, a supporter of the bill, said Colorado taxpayers too often wind up footing the bill for government-subsidized medical care of uninsured accident victims, including those whose injuries might have been less serious if that’d been buckled up.

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