Douglas to oppose primary enforcement seat belt legislation

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll oppose primary enforcement seat belt legislation even though the federal government will give the state nearly $4 million if the bill becomes law.

Douglas says he’d rather support educational programs to encourage people to wear seat belts.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Vermont currently has what’s known as a secondary enforcement seat belt law. That means a police officer can write you a ticket for failing to wear a seat belt only if you’re stopped for some other traffic violation.

The federal government is offering a one time financial incentive to states that enact a primary seat belt law or that achieve at least an 85% compliance rate for two years in a row.

Vermont would be eligible for $3.7 million in new transportation money. Several years ago Vermont’s rate came close to the federal standard but recently it’s fallen back slightly.

Addison senator Claire Ayer supports the primary approach because she believes it will save lives.

(Ayer) “It’s the state’s business because we pay for a lot of people. We pay a lot of the expenses for people who are in bad car accidents. Seat belts do save lives and they do decrease the severity of injuries. To me it’s a no-brainer. I wouldn’t like being told I had to wear the same clothes every day or I had to cut my hair a certain way. But if it saved my life, maybe I’d give it some thought.”

(Kinzel) Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza is not a big fan of the primary enforcement approach but he says he’s willing to look at it.

(Mazza) “You always hate to mandate something because of money. One of the things I like to do – if you’re going to mandate something, mandate it because of a purpose of safety or something that’s going to better the state. Just to mandate for funds sometimes gets you into trouble because the funds dry up and then you’re stuck with the obligation the federal government gives you.”

(Kinzel) Mazza says he’s probably won’t actively pursue the legislation if Governor Jim Douglas strongly opposes it, and that is the case.

(Douglas) “It’s one-time money as I understand it. So it really doesn’t address the structural problem that we have in our transportation fund with low sales of gasoline and reductions in revenues from other sources. There’s a limit to what government can order people to do. We have a very high compliance rate. Nearly 85% of Vermonters buckle up now and I think our dollars and resources and energy are better spent educating Vermonters on the importance of buckling up.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Transportation committee does plan to take testimony on the legislation in the coming weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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