Florida drivers shouldn’t expect state troopers to let them off with just a warning if they are caught driving with their seat belt unbuckled now that a a new law has gone into effect.
The Florida Highway Patrol plans to strictly enforce the law that makes seat belt violations a primary offense. Police have been able to ticket unbelted motorists since 1986 but only if stopping them for another traffic violation such as speeding.
“We’ve always had a zero tolerance policy for some time and we’re gonna continue with that,” said Highway Patrol Lt. Chris Miller. “If we do stop you, you can expect a ticket. We won’t be giving any warnings.”
Troopers, though, will be passing out informational flyers to motorists on the road at their public offices to get the word out about the new law.
Motorists can be ticketed if either they or their front seat passengers fail to buckle up. All passengers under 18 also are required to wear seat belts regardless of where they are sitting.
The penalty is a $30 fine plus administrative and court costs.
The National Highway Safety Administration has estimated the new law will save 124 lives and prevent 1,733 serious injuries in Florida every year.
Most state laws go into effect on July 1, the first day of the new budget year, or on Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year for the federal government and many cities and counties.
The seat belt law, though, went into effect Tuesday, June 30, to meet a federal grant deadline. As a result, Florida will qualify for up to $35 million in federal highway safety money.
Congress in 2005 offered the grants as an incentive for states to adopt primary enforcement laws. To qualify, a state must enact such a law by June 30, 2009, and begin issuing citations by September 30, 2009.
Florida is one of 30 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and four other U.S. territories that have passed primary enforcement laws, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Florida statute is known as the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law in memory of two young women killed in accidents while not wearing their seat belts.
Dori Slosberg’s father, Irv Slosberg, is a former state lawmaker from Boca Raton who ran for the Florida House in 2000 because of his 14-year-old daughter’s death. He sponsored the seat belt bill and other highway safety measures until 2006. He ran for the Florida Senate that year but lost in the Democratic primary.
Katie Marchetti’s parents, who are from the Tampa Bay area, also have been leaders in the effort to get such a law passed.
It’s been a struggle because some opponents argued police would be prone to singling out racial and ethnic minorities for tickets.
Others said it would infringe on individual liberties. That philosophy led to the repeal in 2000 of a similar requirement for adult motorcyclists to wear helmets.
Associated Press writer Jon Manson-Hing contributed to this report.
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