Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/27/2004 01:40 PM TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 316-SEAT BELT VIOLATION AS PRIMARY OFFENSE                                                                                 
CHAIR HOLM  announced that  the next order  of business  would be                                                               
SENATE BILL  NO. 316,  "An Act relating  to motor  vehicle safety                                                               
belt violations."                                                                                                               
CHAIR HOLM informed  the committee that this  legislation has two                                                               
indeterminate fiscal notes, one from  the Alaska Court System and                                                               
one from  the Department  of Public Safety  (DPS).   Those fiscal                                                               
notes are indeterminate because there  is no way to determine the                                                               
impact to these two agencies.   He further informed the committee                                                               
that SB  316 is  the companion  to HB  392, which  has previously                                                               
been heard in this committee.                                                                                                   
Number 1288                                                                                                                     
LAUREN  WICKERSHAM,  Staff to  Senator  Con  Bunde, Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature, presented SB  316 on behalf of  the sponsor, Senator                                                               
Bunde.   Ms. Wickersham explained  that basically SB  316 changes                                                               
Alaska's  seat  belt  law  from   secondary  to  primary  status.                                                               
Therefore, it provides the ability  for enforcement of a law that                                                               
is  already in  statute.   The current  seat belt  law is  nearly                                                               
unenforceable because law enforcement  can't stop individuals for                                                               
seat belt violations  alone.  The change proposed in  SB 316 will                                                               
save lives,  she emphasized.   She related that with  the passage                                                               
of  SB  316 seat  belt  usage  in  Alaska  could increase  to  15                                                               
percent, which  correlates to approximately 10-12  lives saved in                                                               
the first  year alone.   Furthermore, this change will  mean that                                                               
the state will gain federal  funds, totaling close to $4 million,                                                               
for highway repairs.  Additionally,  the state will receive funds                                                               
for  safety  belt  education  campaigns.     The  combination  of                                                               
education and enforcement  leads to the greatest  safety belt use                                                               
possible, she opined.                                                                                                           
MS.  WICKERSHAM informed  the  committee  that Alaskans  annually                                                               
spend  millions on  motor vehicle  crashes  and this  legislation                                                               
will  save Alaskans  thousands  in  the first  year  alone.   She                                                               
related that  85 percent of  all costs involved in  motor vehicle                                                               
accidents are paid  for by society through the  public or private                                                               
sectors.   In fact, last year  the average Alaskan paid  $120 per                                                               
person through  accident-related costs.   Ms.  Wickersham pointed                                                               
out that both  national and Alaskan surveys  indicate that people                                                               
support  the primary  seat belt  law.   Furthermore, a  telephone                                                               
survey  by the  Alaskan Injury  Prevention Center  found that  67                                                               
[percent] of the 800 surveyed  supported a primary seat belt law.                                                               
Ms. Wickersham concluded  by highlighting that SB  316 would save                                                               
lives and money.                                                                                                                
Number 1500                                                                                                                     
RICK  MORRISON, National  Automobile Dealers  Association (NADA);                                                               
Alaska  Automobile  Dealers   Association  (AADA),  informed  the                                                               
committee  that he  has been  in the  automobile industry  for 30                                                               
years and has  watched the innovative safety  advancements in the                                                               
industry.    However, he  pointed  out  that  all of  the  safety                                                               
advancements work  with the seat  belt.   He noted that  NADA has                                                               
assisted  in this  campaign nationwide  because  making the  seat                                                               
belt law  a primary [offense]  will save  lives.  In  addition to                                                               
the 10-15 lives  that would be saved in Alaska  in the first year                                                               
of this proposed law, there is  the potential to obtain almost $4                                                               
million from the  federal government.  Mr.  Morrison informed the                                                               
committee that statistics  show that the use of a  seat belt in a                                                               
car provided  an additional 45 percent  increase in effectiveness                                                               
in passenger  cars and  60 percent  increase in  effectiveness in                                                               
sport  utility vehicles  (SUVs).   Furthermore, states  enforcing                                                               
laws such  as that proposed in  SB 316 have less  highway deaths.                                                               
Moreover, thousands  of injuries  can be  avoided with  seat belt                                                               
use.   Therefore,  from both  a national  and state  perspective,                                                               
it's time to step forward and  promote seat belt use as a primary                                                               
offense in  order to encourage use  of seat belts.   Mr. Morrison                                                               
concluded by noting his support of SB 316.                                                                                      
Number 1607                                                                                                                     
KURT  WINSTON, Regional  Administrator, National  Highway Traffic                                                               
Safety Administration, US  Department of Transportation, informed                                                               
the committee  that he  works with the  states of  Alaska, Idaho,                                                               
Oregon, and Washington.  He  noted that his written testimony has                                                               
been  filed with  the committee.   Mr.  Winston highlighted  that                                                               
passage of  this legislation will  save an estimated  12-15 lives                                                               
in Alaska in the first  year of implementation.  Furthermore, the                                                               
legislation  will prevent  300 very  serious  injuries that  cost                                                               
approximately  $66,000  each,  which   amounts  to  "$20  million                                                               
leakage of  your budget  because most  of that  is paid  for with                                                               
taxpayers'  money."   Under President  George  W. Bush's  highway                                                               
plan, which is  currently in Congress, Alaska  would receive $3.9                                                               
million in bonus highway aide.   Mr. Winston related that his son                                                               
is a member  of the Chugiak Fire Department and  he has responded                                                               
to several  crashes.  In  those crashes in which  the individuals                                                               
were   wearing  restraints,   the   individuals  rarely   require                                                               
transport to  a hospital.   However, those  crashes in  which the                                                               
individuals  aren't  restrained   often  result  in  catastrophic                                                               
results.     Mr.  Winston  said   that  the  [US   Department  of                                                               
Transportation] and  the Bush Administration  urge passage  of SB                                                               
Number 1730                                                                                                                     
JOAN  DIAMOND,  Public  Health,  Department  of  Health  &  Human                                                               
Services,  Municipality of  Anchorage,  testified  in support  of                                                               
this legislation.   This legislation  would require  every driver                                                               
in Alaska to participate in public safety.                                                                                      
Number 1743                                                                                                                     
PAUL  HARRIS,  Director,  Fairbanks Police  Department,  City  of                                                               
Fairbanks,  informed the  committee that  he is  a retired  state                                                               
trooper  who began  his career  in law  enforcement in  Alaska in                                                               
1972.   Therefore, he  has had  experiences with  traffic crashes                                                               
[in which the individuals] were  and were not wearing seat belts.                                                               
He related  that most law  enforcement officers he is  in contact                                                               
with are in  support of SB 316.  Mr.  Harris highlighted that law                                                               
enforcement doesn't have much it can  do in the way of preventing                                                               
accidents,  save enforcement.   The  only argument  against [this                                                               
legislation]  that he  has heard  is that  it's inconvenient  and                                                               
restricts  an individual's  rights.   However, he  submitted that                                                               
being  strapped  to  a  backboard  for six  months  is  truly  an                                                               
inconvenience  and a  restriction of  rights.   The fact  is that                                                               
there  is   already  the  ability  to   reduce  those  instances.                                                               
Although  Alaska already  has  a mandatory  seat  belt law,  it's                                                               
unenforceable.  Therefore, law enforcement  needs a seat belt use                                                               
law that is enforceable.                                                                                                        
Number 1926                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING  commented that  he didn't  believe anyone                                                               
would  argue that  seat belts  save lives  and prevent  injuries.                                                               
However, he admitted  that until he was married he  didn't wear a                                                               
seat belt because he resented  government telling him what to do.                                                               
Representative  Kohring  asked  if  law  enforcement  would  stop                                                               
someone if the law enforcement  officer suspected a violation [of                                                               
this proposed seat belt law].                                                                                                   
MR. HARRIS answered that when  law enforcement has probable cause                                                               
to believe  there is a  violation, an individual can  be stopped.                                                               
Mr. Harris  recalled when Fairbanks  had a primary seat  belt use                                                               
law.  At  that time, he said he received  no telephone calls from                                                               
individuals   charging  that   he   or  she   had  been   stopped                                                               
incorrectly.   He  noted that  if  an individual  doesn't have  a                                                               
shoulder strap,  it's difficult  to determine  whether he  or she                                                               
has on  a seat  belt.   Mr. Harris said  that law  enforcement is                                                               
looking for  obvious violations,  and therefore chances  are that                                                               
an  individual driving  safely without  a visible  shoulder strap                                                               
won't be stopped.   However, if that same  individual was driving                                                               
recklessly, he or she would probably be stopped.                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KOHRING expressed  concern  that law  enforcement                                                               
may use this to stop people  unnecessarily.  He mentioned his own                                                               
experience with being  stopped in situations he  didn't feel were                                                               
appropriate.  Representative Kohring  felt resentful that so many                                                               
law enforcement  officers on the Glenn  Highway between Anchorage                                                               
and Wasilla are  looking to pull over  individuals for relatively                                                               
minor violations  when those resources  could be  better directed                                                               
at those committing serious crimes.                                                                                             
Number 2100                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  HOLM   questioned  how  law  enforcement   will  have  the                                                               
resources to enforce SB 316,  if law enforcement doesn't have the                                                               
resources to follow-up  on burglaries and other  crimes that seem                                                               
to be of greater [importance].                                                                                                  
MR.  HARRIS directed  attention to  the statistics  the committee                                                               
has been  given in regard  to the  number of dollars,  lives, and                                                               
people impacted by  traffic accidents.  He said  that bad driving                                                               
is a primary bad act, and  therefore law enforcement does place a                                                               
lot  of  emphasis  on  it.     Mr.  Harris  said  that  when  law                                                               
enforcement  makes  a  stop  for  traffic  violations,  equipment                                                               
violations, and a child not  wearing a seat belt, law enforcement                                                               
is dealing  with a  bad actor.   The  aforementioned is  the only                                                               
chance to prevent an injury.  On  the other hand in the case of a                                                               
burglary  or a  homicide,  the  property has  been  taken and  an                                                               
individual's rights  have already been  violated by the  time law                                                               
enforcement  is   involved.    "This  is   one  opportunity  that                                                               
government has  to keep people alive  and protect them.   I think                                                               
it is a priority," he said.                                                                                                     
CHAIR HOLM maintained that law  enforcement has far better things                                                               
to do  than [deal with  traffic violations].  "I'm  not convinced                                                               
yet," he said.                                                                                                                  
Number 2227                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH recalled  reading that  there are  over                                                               
180 primary reasons to stop someone in their vehicle.                                                                           
MR. HARRIS  said he didn't  know the exact number,  but suspected                                                               
that there are more than 180 reasons.                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH opined  that this  seat belt  law won't                                                               
cause  more  individuals  to  be   stopped  by  law  enforcement.                                                               
There's  already enough  reasons  to stop  someone, he  remarked.                                                               
With regard  to burglary, it's  a felony  with jail time  of five                                                               
years   or   more.     However,   people   continue   to   steal.                                                               
Representative   Stepovich  emphasized   that  this   legislation                                                               
doesn't  save lives,  it's wearing  one's seat  belt.   He opined                                                               
that proper education is important.                                                                                             
MR. HARRIS related  his belief that education  and enforcement go                                                               
hand-in-hand.  When  adults are motivated to wear  seat belts, it                                                               
sets an  example for  children.  Therefore,  wearing a  seat belt                                                               
will  be automatic  for those  in future  generations.   Having a                                                               
primary seat belt law is one of the educational tools.                                                                          
CHAIR HOLM  commented that the  only reason  he ever wore  a seat                                                               
belt was when his wife's car had an automatic seat belt.                                                                        
TAPE 04-15, SIDE B                                                                                                            
CHAIR HOLM commented that an  automatic seat belt could be placed                                                               
in automobiles, and questioned why engineers couldn't do such.                                                                  
Number 2309                                                                                                                     
ALLEN  STOREY, Lieutenant,  Central  Office,  Division of  Alaska                                                               
State Troopers,  Department of Public  Safety (DPS),  related the                                                               
belief  that  voluntary  compliance  is  preferable  to  enforced                                                               
compliance.    He  highlighted  that  there  is  no  request  for                                                               
enhanced  penalties   for  seat  belt  violations,   although  he                                                               
supports  making  it  a  primary   offense  so  that  people  are                                                               
encouraged to wear seat belts.   Lieutenant Storey echoed earlier                                                               
remarks that seat belts save  lives.  Furthermore, he opined that                                                               
seat  belts  prevent  accidents because  as  a  driver  maneuvers                                                               
around something,  perhaps a moose,  on the road, the  driver can                                                               
maintain control  of the  vehicle because he  or she  is strapped                                                               
in.  With  regard to police harassment,  law enforcement officers                                                               
have a heavy  workload and aren't in the  business of harassment.                                                               
Lieutenant Storey said,  "It seems ... the requirement  to wear a                                                               
seat belt  is an extension  of a  privilege of having  a driver's                                                               
license, its not an  extension of a right.  And  it seems like in                                                               
return for that privilege to be  able to share the highway and be                                                               
part of  that carefully choreographed  process of  moving traffic                                                               
from place to place that the need  to wear a seat belt is a small                                                               
expense."  Lieutenant Storey related  an experience he had with a                                                               
death notification, and said that  law enforcement officers don't                                                               
like to  notify the next  of kin or perform  death investigations                                                               
because a  person didn't wear  a seat belt.   The belief  is that                                                               
having seat belt use as a  primary offense will generate a higher                                                               
rate of voluntary compliance.                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH   recalled  that   Lieutenant  Storey's                                                               
testimony  used   language  such  as  encourage   and  volunteer.                                                               
However, he  thought this  legislation would  require the  use of                                                               
seat belts.                                                                                                                     
LIEUTENANT  STOREY said  that the  question is  are people  being                                                               
forced to  wear seat belts.   Although  SB 316 would  implement a                                                               
statute that's a  $15 penalty when people don't  wear seat belts,                                                               
the desire is  for people to voluntarily wear seat  belts so that                                                               
no interaction  with law enforcement  is necessary.   The returns                                                               
for wearing a seat belt far  outweigh any pride a person can take                                                               
in not wearing a seat belt.                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  KOHRING said  that Lieutenant  Storey's testimony                                                               
is  quite convincing.   However,  he  maintained his  displeasure                                                               
with the law  enforcement officers who seem "to be  on ego trips"                                                               
and  harassing  people.    Representative  Kohring  related  that                                                               
during  the time  he spent  in  Moscow, Russia,  he observed  law                                                               
enforcement efforts.   During his two-week period  there, he said                                                               
he  never saw  an accident  despite seeing  tens of  thousands of                                                               
automobiles on  the roads.   Law  enforcement officers  in Moscow                                                               
didn't  seem to  take the  same  approach in  regard to  stopping                                                               
people as they do in Anchorage.                                                                                                 
Number 1951                                                                                                                     
PETE EAGAN stated that it  seems the state already thinks wearing                                                               
seat belts  is a  good idea  since there  is already  a secondary                                                               
seat belt  law.  Statistics show  that seat belt use  saves lives                                                               
and primary seat  belt laws result in greater use  of seat belts.                                                               
Therefore, he questioned  why one wouldn't want  to encourage it.                                                               
He said he wasn't concerned  with regard to "Big Brother watching                                                               
whether or not I'm wearing a seat  belt."  Wearing a seat belt is                                                               
the  smart thing  to  do, he  remarked.   Mr.  Eagan viewed  this                                                               
proposed legislation as  a tool that would  allow law enforcement                                                               
to  do a  better  job.   He informed  the  committee that  Alaska                                                               
averages 80-plus traffic  fatalities a year, and  roughly half of                                                               
those are  attributed to  drunk driving.   Nationwide,  there are                                                               
over 40,000  traffic fatalities a  year of which over  17,000 are                                                               
due  to drunk  driving.   Moreover, injury  crashes are  far more                                                               
numerous.   Mr. Eagan reminded  everyone that in  2001 terrorists                                                               
killed  about 3,000  innocent  Americans in  one  day.   However,                                                               
every 67  days that same  year, 3,000 more Americans  were killed                                                               
in  car crashes  by fellow  Americans.   Statistics  show that  a                                                               
great number  of the  victims might have  survived had  they been                                                               
wearing  a seat  belt.   Therefore, he  again questioned  why one                                                               
wouldn't want  to encourage the use  of seat belts by  passage of                                                               
SB 316.  He concluded by urging the committee to pass SB 316.                                                                   
Number 1820                                                                                                                     
MARTHA  MOORE,   Department  of   Health  and   Social  Services,                                                               
testified in support of SB 316.   She informed the committee that                                                               
even with  the few roads  that Alaska has, motor  vehicle crashes                                                               
remain the most  common cause of accidental death in  Alaska.  In                                                               
2003, 94  Alaskans lost  their lives  in crashes  of which  24 of                                                               
those  individuals  were  not  wearing seat  belts.    Ms.  Moore                                                               
related that the  Alaska Trauma Registry data  shows that crashes                                                               
in Alaska that involve individuals  not wearing seat belts result                                                               
in  60   new  brain  injuries   a  year  and  30   new  permanent                                                               
disabilities a year.   The costs of the  aforementioned are huge.                                                               
The department's support of SB 316  comes from the concern of the                                                               
safety and  health of the population  as well as to  keep medical                                                               
costs down.   Ms. Moore  echoed earlier testimony  regarding that                                                               
with  the passage  of  a primary  seat belt  law,  there will  be                                                               
increased seat belt  usage that will most likely  result in saved                                                               
lives  and  saved  money.     The  Alaska  Trauma  Registry  data                                                               
illustrates that  over half the  medical costs for  these crashes                                                               
are passed  on to the  federal government, the  state government,                                                               
and the public.                                                                                                                 
Number 1747                                                                                                                     
DON SMITH, Administrator, Alaska  Highway Safety Office, Division                                                               
of  Program Development,  Department of  Transportation &  Public                                                               
Facilities, characterized  that this  legislation is an  issue of                                                               
perception  in  that  individuals  would know  that  there  is  a                                                               
primary seat  belt law and could  be stopped for violations.   He                                                               
said he  didn't believe  a host  of arrests  would take  place as                                                               
much as  the public will become  aware that Alaska has  a primary                                                               
seat belt  law.   The aforementioned will  increase the  use rate                                                               
and save lives.   He stated that wearing a seat  belt is the best                                                               
defense against poor drivers.   Mr. Smith concluded by requesting                                                               
that the committee report SB 316 from committee.                                                                                
Number 1704                                                                                                                     
CINDY  CASHEN,   Executive  Director,  Juneau   Chapter,  Mothers                                                               
Against  Drunk Driving  (MADD), informed  the committee  that she                                                               
has three  children who will  be driving soon, and  therefore she                                                               
wanted her children to be stopped  if they weren't wearing a seat                                                               
belt.   She said that  she knows  that her children  won't always                                                               
remember  to wear  a  seat  belt until  it  becomes an  ingrained                                                               
habit.   She  further said  that she  doesn't want  to receive  a                                                               
knock on her  door and be told by a  law enforcement officer that                                                               
her child  was killed because  he didn't wear  a seat belt.   Ms.                                                               
Cashen opined that this legislation will save lives.                                                                            
CHAIR HOLM announced  that public testimony on SB  316 was closed                                                               
and that it would be held over.                                                                                                 

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