Safety board asks state to ‘click it’

Matt Ryno

Over 21,000 lives could have been saved nationally in 2001 if all passengers over the age of 4 wore seat belts. However, Wisconsin is still not among the 18 states in which the police may pull over anyone seen not wearing a seat belt.

The National Transportation and Safety Board began working last month to expand primary enforcement, which authorizes police officials to pull a driver over solely for now wearing a seatbelt, according to NTSB spokesperson Terry Williams.

“Primary enforcement is on the top of the NTSB’s list of most-wanted changes and is something we are working diligently to lobby for in most states including Wisconsin,” Williams said.

Recently the NTSB chief called on Gov. Jim Doyle and Wisconsin legislative leaders to push a bill through the state legislature next year. It would allow police to stop motorists for seat belt violations alone.

Enacting such legislature “costs nothing, but will save much — possibly even someone close to you,” said NTSB chairwoman Ellen Engleman in a letter dated last week to Doyle and members of the legislature.

Josh Morvey, a spokesman for Doyle, refused to comment on whether or not Doyle had received such a letter, but said in a statement, “the issue of highway safety was very important to the governor and he takes very seriously the issues of law enforcement and any legislature that comes to his desk relating to this issue.”

This push for primary enforcement is spurred on by statistics from the NTSB that show states with primary enforcement have about 10 to 15 percent higher seat belt use than states with secondary enforcement.

“Why not enact such laws when such laws have proven to put so many people in seat belts and save some of their lives?” Williams said.

The push for primary laws is not without opposition.

“Many people feel their rights are being violated by being forced to buckle up,” Williams said. “This is one of the main reasons primary seat belt regulations are held up in many states,” he said.

Since there are no primary seat belt laws in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Sheriff’s department and the Milwaukee Police Department, along with 12,000 officers nationally, continue to emphasize the importance of seat belt use. The Sheriff’s department and MPD both participate in the national “click it or ticket” campaign.

“We just want to promote awareness of the importance of seat belts by helping out in any way we can,” said Pamela Roberts, head of the public safety division of MPD.

Currently, Wisconsin remains under “secondary” seat belt laws, and officers may give out $10 tickets to violators after the violators have been pulled over for another citation.

“We tried to get the fine raised to $25 in Milwaukee,” Roberts said. “But after we crunched the numbers, we realized it really wouldn’t make much of a difference if we raised the fine because the amount of money we got from the citation was so small to begin with.”

Roberts reinforced the idea “the Milwaukee Police Department isn’t concerned with making money from the program,” she said. “Our number one goal is protecting the safety of the citizens.” She agreed with Williams that the main goal of these laws is not to gain money, but to help save lives.

During the campaign, the sheriff’s department and the local police departments in the state collaborate their efforts on promoting seat belt use through extra patrols and advertising campaigns.

Oftentimes the collaboration means more overtime for the officers working on the campaign. However, Roberts said, “this is something the officers are happy to do if it means potentially saving an extra life.”

While officers are more than willing to donate their time, Jim Savage, the state’s injury prevention program manager, said the state did not apply for the national grants for this program last year.

“Ever since the time Doyle has been in office, we have not received funding for our statewide ‘click it or ticket’ campaign,” he said. “During the end of Gov. Scott McCallum’s term, Wisconsin’s Transportation Department used to be in favor of primary seat belt laws.

“Now, our stance is neutral.”