Diane McGee is among the 77 percent of drivers in Kansas who wear their seat belts, either while driving or as a passenger in the front seat of a vehicle making its way down interstate highways, major thoroughfares or county roads.
Whether a new $5 fine that takes effect today helps steer the other 23 percent into compliance remains an open question.
“Seems like if you’re wanting to enforce it, you should make it a little more drastic,” McGee said Tuesday, after exiting the driver’s license bureau in North Lawrence. “I’d make it more than $5. I don’t think it’s going to make that much difference.”
But the new fine — following up on the primary seat-belt law that took effect with warnings June 10 — will be looked upon to help boost the numbers of Kansas drivers using proper restraints.
According to information compiled by state departments of transportation, Kansas ranks 43rd among the 50 states in terms of seat-belt usage. Michigan, where the fine is $100 per offense, tops the list with 96 percent of drivers wearing seat belts.
The national average is 84 percent.
Kansas officials hope that imposing fines with the new law — one that allows law-enforcement officers to pull over drivers simply for not wearing a seat belt, instead of in conjunction with another violation — will make all the difference.
“This is going to help improve seat-belt compliance,” said Robert Eichkorn, who works in the Bureau of Transportation Safety and Technology at the Kansas Department of Transportation. “We have had a seat-belt law in the state of Kansas since 1985, but the ability to be pulled over for nothing other than not wearing a seat belt might persuade those other 23 percent that it’s not such a good idea.”
Also convincing: Proper use of safety belts reduces the risk of fatal injuries among front-seat passengers by 45 percent overall, and by 60 percent in pickups, SUVs and minivans.
“This isn’t the government trying to tell you what to do,” Eichkorn said. “This is simply an attempt to keep everyone as safe as possible on Kansas roadways.”