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Buckle up ... or pay

Effective today, June 12, if a police officer doesn’t see the tell-tale shoulder harness when you’re driving by you are subject to being stopped and given a ticket.

A new state law is now in effect, which for the first time allows “enforcing seatbelt laws as primary action.” Washington has had a mandatory seatbelt law for years, but it was a secondary offense — drivers had to be stopped for some other reason. As of today, not wearing a seatbelt is reason enough to be stopped.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Almon said Monday that his officers will be enforcing the new seat belt law immediately. “There won’t be anything extra,” he said. “We’ll just make sure they’re in compliance. We want to get through the holiday season with reduced fatalities.”

The chief added, “Our goal is not to write tickets — if everyone buckles up, that’s the best deterrent there is.”

The law is aimed at all occupants of a vehicle age 16 and over. Younger occupants are already covered by other laws. The new law’s main proponent in the 2002 Legislature was Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

“it will save lives and state tax dollars,” Haugen wrote on the Senate Democratic Caucus web site. She cites State Patrol figures which state that 18 percent of Washington’s drivers do not wear seatbelts, and yet they are involved in more than 50 percent of all accidents.

As for monetary savings, Haugen refers to a Harborview Medical Center study which found that “unbuckled Washington motorists account for $51 million in preventable hospital costs.” The law is expected to save 40 lives annually.

Chief Almon said the penalty for driving unbuckled is $86, including court costs.

Support for the bill in the Legislature was not universal. It passed in the House 55-44 and in the Senate 26-22. “This bill gives some people heartburn because they think it’s an excuse to generate more traffic citations,” Haugen wrote. “But there’s no denying that nearly two-thirds of those killed in car accidents would have survived if they had been wearing a seatbelt.”

Community Events, April 2014

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