Seat Belt Law Change Could Net South Dakota $5 Million

By Terry Woster | February 27, 2009

South Dakota could collect more than $5 million in federal money by passing a primary seat belt law, a state lawmaker says.

Rep. Rich Engels, D-Hartford, testified on Wednesday for SB79. The House Judiciary Committee will take more testimony on the measure Monday.

Engels’ bill would change South Dakota’s secondary-enforcement seat belt law. Currently, law officers may ticket motorists for seat belt violations only if they’ve made a traffic stop for another reason. Engels’ bill would allow primary enforcement, meaning an officer could stop and ticket a motorist for not buckling up whether another traffic violation was observed or not.

“One of the primary reasons for making the change now is there is a federal law allowing us to receive $5.2 million, and that federal law expires July 1,” Engels told the committee. “When there’s federal money available, it always seems to prompt us to do something.”

Engels said that $1 million of the potential federal money would need to be spent for safety-related activities but that the state Transportation Department would have latitude in spending the rest of the money.

“At a time when the budget is in a deep hole and we are trying to find ways to finance our highway programs, this is money that we desperately need,” Engels said.

A volunteer firefighter and emergency responder from Kimball said more people would wear seat belts if the state law allowed primary enforcement. That could save lives, Maynard Konechne said.

“The money doesn’t mean anything to me,” Konechne said.

He said he and two children survived a traffic accident 18 years ago because they were wearing seat belts.

Dr. Mary Carpenter of Winner told lawmakers that people respond to laws. She said her children automatically buckle up when they get into their vehicles.

“Whether this behavior was learned from me, hopefully, or from their baby sitter or whether it happens because they don’t want to get a ticket, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “You all have been responsible for changing the habits of an entire generation.”

No one spoke against the bill during Wednesday’s abbreviated hearing.

Topics South Dakota

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