Last year, Kansas legislators passed a seat belt law with a fine so low that there is little or no incentive to abide by it.
This year, they made sure all Kansas cities would have to do the same.
A new law went into effect on July 1, 2010, that made it a primary offense for people 18 and older not to wear a seat belt. That means that motorists can be stopped simply for a seat belt violation even if no other violation occurred. They also can be charged a fine — but not much of one. The previous fine for a seat belt violation was $30 plus court costs. On July 1, 2010, the fine dropped to $5; on Friday it will rise to $10. However both of the latter fines include court costs.
It was clear at the time that legislators passed the primary seat belt law, not because they wanted to save Kansas lives, but because they wanted the $11 million in federal highway dollars to which the law would give them access. The “threat” of a $5 or $10 fine isn’t a serious incentive to wear a seat belt.
Nonetheless, legislators this year decided to extend their folly to cities, which previously had been allowed to charge higher fines within their city limits. In Lawrence, the fine has been $40 plus $60 in court costs; similar fines existed in other Kansas cities. However, starting Friday, no city will be allowed to charge more than a $10 fine for a seat belt violation. And that must include court costs, which means cities and their municipal courts will have to bear the financial burdens of any effort to enforce the seat belt law while receiving only minimal income from fines and no payment for court costs.
Last August, after the $5 fine went into effect, Kansas Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller was among those who noted the fine’s lack of deterrence and supported higher fines for the seat belt law. Rather than responding to that concern, legislators made the situation worse with their mandate to cities.
The primary purpose of state and municipal traffic laws is to increase safety on Kansas roads and highways and protect Kansas motorists. Raising the speed limit on many highways while lowering the incentive for drivers and their passengers to wear life-saving seat belts seems contrary to those goals.