Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/05/2004 04:20 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                

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