Mark Taylor
Gardner police stopped 66 vehicles during last week’s Memorial Day “Click It or Ticket” campaign aimed at primary seatbelt enforcement as mandated by a recent state law.
The new law makes failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense. That means police can stop motorists for no reason other than not wearing a seatbelt.
Previously, seatbelt offenses were considered secondary, and drivers could only be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt after they were stopped for a primary violation such as speeding or running a stop sign.
Ilena Spalding, public information officer for the Gardner Police Department, said that during the 66 stops, officers wrote a total of 54 citations.
Those included 34 adult seatbelt violations (ages 18 and older), two youth seatbelt violations (ages 14-17), five citations for speeding and 13 secondary citations for offenses including no driver’s license, no insurance, and license plate violations.
“We also gave verbal warnings,” Spalding said. “Any discrepancy in those numbers would be in warnings.”
Gardner police conduct two to three DUI/seatbelt campaigns per year with funding provided by a Kansas Department of Transportation Grant.
Kenneth Francis, Gardner police chief, said the city receives about $2,000 per year from the grant and that money covers the cost of overtime for officers.
“Because of our participation in this program, officers work overtime so as not to take our street coverage away,” he said. “We turn in requests for repayment from the state program on the overtime that is used for this campaign.
The campaigns usually focus on the Memorial Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving holidays.
Motorists cited for seatbelt violations received a $30 ticket. Those cited for additional violations received a larger fine.
Jamie Loughmiller, municipal court clerk, said the seat belt fines contributed about $1,205 to the city’s coffers.
She said there was no way to determine the amount of fines for secondary tickets seatbelt violators may have received.
Francis said he believes the campaign was successful.
“We were pleased with it,” he said. “I think it allowed some drivers to assess their seatbelt usage. A lot of people forget to put their seatbelts on and some refuse to, but it is for safety.”
Rep. Mike Kiegerl said he voted against the bill that eventually made seatbelt violations a primary offence.
Kiegerl said his main concern was that the new law might lead to racial profiling. He said several legislators from Wichita shared that concern.
“I voted against it because of several problems,” he said. “One was that it could lead to profiling and picking on minorities particularly. I also felt that police ought to have some other reason to stop you, not to have the opportunity to stop you for no reason at all, which this does.”
Kiegerl said he is a supporter of seatbelt usage.
“But police should have (other) cause to stop you,” he said. “If you get stopped for speeding or running a red light and you are not wearing your seatbelt, you should get a ticket.”
Kiegerl said he believes the legislature passed the seatbelt initiative to take advantage of $11 million in federal funds.
“I was in the conference committee,” he said. “There was an $11 million one time inflow of funds for this. The problem is federal funds are never without strings.
“We have had several opportunities to find out. One of them is the state unemployment fund which got $80 million from the federal government. The strings that were attached to it were more detrimental than positive. The federal government required us to i
Francis said he supports primary enforcement for seatbelt usage for the sake of safety.
“I think for many years we operated without it being a primary enforcement tool,” he said. “I know that many officers were frustrated that you can actually see what is thought to be an unsafe condition, but unless they committed another violation you had to watch them go by. With primary enforcement you have an opportunity to stop them and visit with them about the importance of seatbelts.”
Francis said the purpose of the law is not for officers to use seatbelt violations to uncover more serious, secondary offenses, but it does happen from time to time.
“Occasionally,” he said. “Certainly not in every case. But you may find an open container. You may notice intoxication.”
Francis said his officers’ primary concern is keeping the public safe.
“If you are involved in a collision, you have the best chance possible of walking away from that collision (if you are wearing a seatbelt),” he said.
Francis added that Kansas has a higher seatbelt compliance rate than many other states.
He attributes that to ongoing public efforts to educate the public.
“Certainly the Kansas Department of Transportation highway safety groups and their involvement in films and ads on TV,” Francis said. “‘Click It or Ticket.’ They spend money to drive the point home.”
Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies also participated in the Memorial Day seatbelt campaign.
Tom Erickson, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said six deputies put in 64 hours, stopped 234 vehicles and wrote 219 tickets for seatbelt violations and 34 other tickets.
“That is an average of 3.4 seatbelt tickets issued per hour,” Erickson said.
The Kansas Highway Patrol reports issuing 855 adult seatbelt citations, 29 seatbelt citations and 55 child restraint citations over the Memorial Day holiday.
Attempts to reach the Spring Hill Police Department for information were unsuccessful at press time.