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Area supporters, opponents voice views on proposed state mandatory seat belt law

Phillips County News of Malta, Montana

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In the past, Montana motorists could only be cited for not wearing a seat belt if that fact was discovered after being stopped for another offense.

However, that may be changing if Senate Bill 237, sponsored by Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, passes.

Supporters of the measure were in Helena last week, Many who testified were emotional since they had lost family members in vehicle accidents.

Other supporters had seen the results of traffic accidents firsthand including EMTs, emergency room personnel, doctors and law enforcement officers.

Captain Brad Sangray, commanding the Havre District of the Montana Highway Patrol is in favor of the law, as is the MHP.

"The Highway Patrol definitely supports the primary seat belt law," he said. "If there's any question whether or not the driver was wearing a belt, our officer will not write the ticket."

Sangray said a number of factors would be involved including the make of the vehicle and the darkness of tint on the windows.

Opponents to the bill differ on their view.

Phillips County Sheriff Tom Miller said "Right now it's a secondary ticket.

"It's going to be tough to prove in court. It looks good on paper, but I doubt it will succeed in the field.

"It's hard to see a shoulder strap through some windows when the driver is going 60 or 70 miles an hour and you're doing the same going in the other direction.

"On the other hand, it could lead to a secondary offense such as DUI or no insurance or registration," he said. "That would be a good thing."

Miller said the concept was similar to the child restraint law with one exception, "You can pretty much tell when a child is standing up in the seat — and take action — spotting a seat belt is much harder."

Justice of the Peace Gayle Stahl sees the proposed law as taking away an individual's rights and freedom of choice.

"I don't particularly like it. There should be another probable cause to stop someone beside a seat belt violation," Stahl said.

"I usually don't wear a seat belt when I drive around town and I don't know many who do; but I always wear it on the highway," she said.

"I think it should be a matter of choice. I don't know anyone who wears a seat belt every time. Probably 98 percent of us don't," she added.

"The ultimate goal of this legislation isn't to arrest people," Attorney General Steve Bullock said. "The ultimate goal is to get more Montanans wearing their seat belts."

The 2005 Legislature failed to pass a similar bill when it was submitted for consideration.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. —Mark Twain

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Original Publication Date: February 4, 2009

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