Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/05/2004 04:20 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 316 - SEAT BELT VIOLATION AS PRIMARY OFFENSE Number 0540 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the next order of business would be SENATE BILL NO. 316, "An Act relating to motor vehicle safety belt violations." [The committee had before it both SB 316 and HCS SB 316(TRA).] Number 0549 LAUREN WICKERSHAM, Staff to Senator Con Bunde, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, on behalf of Senator Bunde, relayed that the bill changes current seatbelt law such that a violation will become a primary offense. Although current law requires all individuals riding in a car to wear a seatbelt, law enforcement may only cite an individual for failure to wear a seatbelt if that individual is being pulled over for another reason. This will change with adoption of the bill in that it will allow law enforcement to pull an individual over for failure to wear a seatbelt. MS. WICKERSHAM predicted that passage of the bill will increase seatbelt use by up to 15 percent in the first year, and that this will translate into saving 10-12 Alaskan lives. Additionally, Alaska will gain federal funds for highway repairs and education campaigns, as well as other [federal] monies that are currently withheld due to noncompliance with safety requirements. She estimated that Alaska will receive close to $4 million in the first year. Alaskan residents spend millions of dollars annually on motor vehicle crashes, and the bill will save Alaskans thousands of dollars in the first year alone, she relayed, adding that 85 percent of all costs involved in crashes are borne by citizens who had nothing to do with those crashes; those costs include emergency services, medical and rehabilitative treatments, health and auto insurance premiums, and other related costs. MS. WICKERSHAM said that regardless of whether those costs are covered by private services, members of society pay for the accidents that they are not directly involved in; for example, the average cost for Alaskans last year was $820 per person. Employers pay even more for motor vehicle crashes in that they pay increased taxes, health insurance costs, and workers' compensation costs. Surveys - both national and Alaskan - indicate that individuals support a primary seatbelt law; for example, according to a telephone survey conducted by the Alaska Injury Prevention Center, 67 percent of 800 Alaskans support a primary seatbelt law. In conclusion, she said that the bill will save money and lives, and relayed that Senator Bunde requests the committee's support. Number 0739 CHAIR McGUIRE, in response to a question, read the language currently in AS 28.05.095(e): (e) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a peace officer may not stop or detain a motor vehicle to determine compliance with (a) of this section, or issue a citation for a violation of (a) of this section, unless the peace officer has probable cause to stop or detain the motor vehicle other than for a violation of (a) of this section. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM noted that four members of the House Transportation Standing Committee voted "do not pass" when the bill was reported from that committee, and predicted that many legislators will think it is inappropriate to make a violation of the seatbelt law a primary offense. REPRESENTATIVE GARA said, "If we were making this a crime, I would be very worried, but it's just a violation." He said he doesn't have any concerns about allowing law enforcement to pull a car over just to issue "the equivalent of a speeding ticket." Currently, law enforcement can pull someone over for speeding, for running a red light, for having a non-working "blinker," and for driving with a broken taillight; the bill simply puts a violation of the seatbelt law in that same category. He opined that it is a more compelling reason to pull someone over than the aforementioned violations, and again pointed out that the bill would not be making a violation of the law a crime. He said he would like to move the bill out of committee and allow it to get heard on the House floor. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG predicted that the bill will be used by law enforcement as a pretext for pulling people over and performing searches. CHAIR McGUIRE noted that HCS SB 316(TRA) proposes to change AS 28.05.095(e) such that it will only apply to vehicles that are not being operated on a highway. She relayed that she would like the committee to discuss the issues raised by the bill before adopting either version as the working document. Number 0976 REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS asked whether the definition of "highway" would include the roads around areas like Bethel, Nome, Naknek, King Salmon, and Dutch Harbor. MS. WICKERSHAM relayed that although the definition of a highway is relatively broad, the change proposed via HCS SB 316(TRA) is intended to apply only in urban areas. Additionally, she offered her belief that the current seatbelt law is only applicable on car models made after 1960. CHAIR McGUIRE noted that AS 28.05.095(c)(4) provides an exception if the vehicle is not equipped with seatbelts. In response to a comment she surmised that AS 28.05.095(e) currently makes no distinction between vehicles driven on a highway and vehicles driven elsewhere. She offered her belief that HCS SB 316(TRA) simply creates the caveat that if it's the primary offense, it pertained only to a vehicle on a highway. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG opined that addition of the phrase, "not being operated on a highway" creates a "negative implication." REPRESENTATIVE GARA predicted that HCS SB 316(TRA) won't be applicable in many situations because the vast majority of instances in which people are not wearing seatbelts are those in which they are driving slowly, for example, while they are driving in neighborhoods. By making the violation primary just on a highway, it will be a primary offense only in places where law enforcement won't notice [the violation] anyway, he remarked, suggesting that the change proposed via HCS SB 316(TRA) will be ineffective. MS. WICKERSHAM reiterated, however, that the definition of "highway" - found in AS 19.45.001 - is incredibly broad; it reads: (9) "highway" includes a highway (whether included in primary or secondary systems), road, street, trail, walk, bridge, tunnel, drainage structure and other similar or related structure or facility, and right- of-way thereof, and further includes a ferry system, whether operated solely inside the state or to connect with a Canadian highway, and any such related facility; REPRESENTATIVE HOLM posited that the reason the House Transportation Standing Committee altered the original bill was to address the concerns of members who didn't want the bill to apply equally to all areas of the state, for example, in the Bush areas. He suggested that it is not realistic to expect that the bill will have safety applications across the state given that HCS SB 316(TRA) is intended to not apply in rural areas of the state. Number 1276 DON SMITH, Administrator, Highway Safety Office, Division of Program Development, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF), said that [the department] is very much in support of the bill. The bill is going to save lives, he predicted, adding that the department is willing to accept the language in HCS SB 316(TRA) as a compromise. CHAIR McGUIRE remarked that nothing in the current definition of "highway" appears to differentiate between urban and rural. MR. SMITH concurred, and offered his belief that the current definition is so broad it could mean almost anything including a snow machine trail. REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS asked what would happen in cases where the seatbelt doesn't work. MR. SMITH replied, "If you've got a supposedly installed seatbelt, you better go down to the dealer and get it fixed, but if you've got a car that doesn't have a seatbelt, you're not [subject to] the law." REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS argued, however, that not all areas of the state have a place to get seatbelts repaired. MR. SMITH offered: My feeling about this bill is [that] it's more an issue of perception than [of] officers running around ticketing people. ... What we're really after in this bill is to reach the 16- to 26- or 30-year-old guy that's running around in his pickup truck thinking he's going to live forever and doesn't buckle [up], and suddenly he's going to wake up one morning and read about the fact that there is a law that he could get a ticket. It's only a $15 ticket unless you get stopped in Anchorage; then it's a ... [$60 ticket]. ... My guess is, [in] a lot of the rural communities, they're not going to have [a] trooper or someone that's even going to be out ticketing. ... I don't know how the application will be, but in Anchorage and Fairbanks and the major communities in Alaska, it'll have an impact. And it's estimated that 10 percent more will buckle [up] based on the fact that you have a primary seatbelt law in your [state]. I just hope you pass it out. Number 1408 KEVIN E. QUINLAN, Chief, Safety Advocacy, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), offered the following testimony: We're the independent accident investigation agency, we've investigated lots of crashes in Alaska, mostly in aviation, and we make recommendations to the states as to what works and what doesn't work. We made this recommendation to the state of Alaska in 1996 and 1997, and it does work. Mr. Smith said [there'd be] about a 10 percent increase in [seatbelt] use; well, that's the low end - it could be as high as a 15 percent increase. That saves lives, saves money, and there's a new study out that says that this kind of law will actually affect young drivers, including those who use alcohol. And I think the point is that this is a very effective measure; it is on the [NTSB's] list of most wanted safety recommendations, right up with things like airplane fuel tank mixtures to prevent airplanes from exploding. So we think this is the most important thing that you can do in highway safety this year. It will reduce ... serious injuries and fatalities, and the cost savings could be very significant. ... Thank you for allowing me to speak to the committee and I'd be glad to handle any questions you may have. Number 1505 RONNI SULLIVAN, Executive Director, Southern Region Emergency Medical Services Council, Inc., after relaying that her organization serves 132 communities in Southcentral and Southwestern Alaska, said that when speaking about traffic crashes, her organization speaks from the perspective of often being first on the scene. She said she wanted to speak strongly in support of the bill; the legislation will be good for the people of Alaska, it will allow her organization to put its efforts towards prevention, rather than just towards reacting to tragedy. According to statistics compiled from the statewide trauma registry, vehicle occupants in Alaska who aren't buckled up are 19 times more likely to die in a crash. "I think the numbers speak for themselves and we should do what we can to move this bill through the session," she concluded. Number 1582 ALLEN STOREY, Lieutenant, Central Office, Division of Alaska State Troopers, Department of Public Safety (DPS), said that the DPS strongly supports passage of SB 316 because the bill is an important element in highway safety and preventing injuries and deaths on the roadway. There are a lot of safety devices on modern vehicles, but they are all built around the concept of a person being secured in his/her seat with a seatbelt, he reminded members. Number 1610 MARTHA MOORE, Trauma Registry Coordinator, Community Health & Emergency Medical Services, Division of Public Health, Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), said simply that the DHSS supports SB 316, and that she would be happy to provide the committee with statistics and answer any questions. Number 1633 CINDY CASHEN, Executive Director, Juneau Chapter, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said that MADD supports SB 316, because a seatbelt is the best defense against drunk driving. Adults who do not buckle up are sending a message to children that it is alright not to use seatbelts. The probability of a fatally injured child being unrestrained are more than twice as likely when the adult driving was unrestrained, she remarked, adding that studies have found that states with primary seatbelt laws increase average seatbelt usage by 9-14 percent. CHAIR McGUIRE, after ascertaining that no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on SB 316. Number 1676 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON moved to adopt HCS SB 316(TRA) as the working document. There being no objection, it was so ordered. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM expressed doubt regarding the veracity of the proffered statistics, characterizing them as subjective. He said he doesn't agree with the argument that the change the bill proposes is acceptable simply because a violation will only result in a citation, because the bill will provide law enforcement with more opportunities to pull people over. He suggested that if safety is the primary goal of the bill, then 100 percent of the monies obtained as a result of a primary seatbelt law being enacted should be spent on educating the public regarding seatbelt use. He relayed that while growing up on a homestead, and later, when employed as a truck driver, he didn't use seatbelts, and opined that seatbelt use in such circumstances is unsafe. REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS said he'd like to offer the following additional language: "This subsection does not apply where a seatbelt is inoperable and there is no business that can repair the seatbelt along the road system where the automobile is located". He posited that such language would address situations in which someone living in a small community doesn't have access to a place where seatbelts can be repaired. MS. WICKERSHAM remarked, "Because of the unique demographics of Alaska, I think that the sponsor would not have a problem with [that additional language]." Number 1957 REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS made a motion to adopt the forgoing as [Conceptual Amendment 1]. He remarked, however, that he would willing to accept alternative language that gets to the same point. REPRESENTATIVE OGG questioned whether [Conceptual Amendment 1] would encourage people living in such areas to simply destroy their seatbelts. CHAIR McGUIRE suggested to Representative Samuels that he withdraw [Conceptual Amendment 1] and research possible alternative language that could be offered as an amendment on the House floor. REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS agreed to do so. [Conceptual Amendment 1 was treated as withdrawn.] Number 1999 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON moved to report HCS SB 316(TRA) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, HCS SB 316(TRA) was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.