Legislature(2003 - 2004)

02/26/2004 03:33 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
         SB 316-SEAT BELT VIOLATION AS PRIMARY OFFENSE                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  announced SB 316 to be  up for consideration.                                                               
He asked Senator Bunde to come forward and identify himself.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR CON  BUNDE, sponsor of  SB 316, explained that  this bill                                                               
would change the  current seatbelt law from a secondary  law to a                                                               
primary  law. He  clarified that  a  secondary law  means that  a                                                               
driver can be cited for not wearing  a seatbelt only if he or she                                                               
has  already  been stopped  for  another  legitimate reason  even                                                               
though seatbelt use  is already required by statute.  Change to a                                                               
primary law means  that the police could stop a  motorist who was                                                               
noticeably not wearing a seatbelt and issue a citation.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
"SB  316 just  changes the  enforcement powers  so that  a police                                                               
officer could  more readily enforce  what is currently  our law."                                                               
Seatbelts do  save lives,  he stated  emphatically, and  the $500                                                               
million  that Alaskans  spend on  crashes every  year would  more                                                               
than likely  decrease with increased  seatbelt use.  Also, Alaska                                                               
would be eligible to receive  an additional $4 million in federal                                                               
funds if it were to pass a primary seatbelt law.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BUNDE noted  that according to some polling  he has seen,                                                               
67 percent of Alaskans believe  that a primary seatbelt law would                                                               
be a good idea.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR JOHN  COWDERY asked him to  comment on the fact  that not                                                               
all seatbelts can be seen  because some older vehicles don't have                                                               
shoulder belts.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BUNDE replied  just a  small number  of cars  would have                                                               
just  lap  belts  and  although   he  wouldn't  want  to  require                                                               
retrofits,  if it  were  his  car he  would  certainly install  a                                                               
shoulder harness.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR COWDERY  asked for the intent  regarding passengers since                                                               
the bill speaks only to drivers.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BUNDE  said  his  interpretation of  the  bill  is  that                                                               
everyone in the vehicle needs to wear a seatbelt.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BERT STEDMAN asked what fines would be established.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BUNDE thought  that the  current state  fine is  $15 and                                                               
municipalities are free to establish their own fines.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  LYMAN HOFFMAN  asked whether  this would  take away  any                                                               
points from a driving license.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BUNDE admitted he didn't know the answer.                                                                               
[An unidentified speaker  advised him that there  wouldn't be any                                                               
points.]                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 04-11, SIDE B                                                                                                            
4:20 pm                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                              
CHAIR GARY STEVENS repeated, "Zero points then."                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  COWDERY  asked the  sponsor  whether  he would  consider                                                               
raising the state penalty to $50.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BUNDE replied  that  would be  a  greater inducement  to                                                               
wearing  a seatbelt,  but he  would defer  to the  wisdom of  the                                                               
committee.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN asked  what the additional $4  million in federal                                                               
funds could be used for.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BUNDE said  the money could be used  for improvements and                                                               
beyond that  the state would  also be eligible for  federal money                                                               
for safety belt education programs.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MARK  JOHNSON with  the Department  of Health  & Social  Services                                                               
stated  support for  the bill.  He reported  that more  people do                                                               
wear seatbelts  if the law  requires them  to do so,  which saves                                                               
lives and reduces  injuries. He estimated that if there  was a 10                                                               
percent  increase  in  seatbelt usage  in  Alaska,  approximately                                                               
seven  lives  would  be  saved  every year  and  about  72  major                                                               
injuries and 50 minor injuries would be prevented.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Other  accident statistics  include: The  Alaska Trauma  Registry                                                               
shows that  over a  ten year  period there  were 1,765  people in                                                               
Alaska hospitalized as  a result of an injury in  a motor vehicle                                                               
crash  who  weren't wearing  a  seatbelt.  Thirty-one percent  of                                                               
those individuals  billed a government  agency and 22  percent of                                                               
the individuals were uninsured. In  addition, about 15 percent of                                                               
the individuals were permanently disabled.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
With regard to the issue of fines,  he said that the last time he                                                               
checked the  fine could be  given to the local  ambulance service                                                               
instead of the court and SB 316 wouldn't change that.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOFFMAN remarked  that many  accidents are  a result  of                                                               
other  violations such  as speeding  or running  a red  light. He                                                               
asked Mr. Johnson if he could sort the data that way.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. JOHNSON replied, "The number  undoubtedly would be lower, but                                                               
some  of the  people who  are injured  are not  the ones  who are                                                               
violating  the law  and  this  would help  reduce  some of  those                                                               
injuries."                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOFFMAN  retorted most  of  those  statistics come  from                                                               
people that are breaking existing laws.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR.  JOHNSON told  the  committee that  research  has shown  that                                                               
adults  who are  belted are  far  more likely  to restrain  their                                                               
children and the reverse is true as well.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CURT  WINSTON, regional  administrator for  the National  Highway                                                               
Traffic  Safety  Administration,  reported  that  his  agency  is                                                               
charged with reducing the deaths,  the injuries, and the property                                                               
damage caused  on public  roads. His  son, who is  an EMT  in the                                                               
Chugiak Fire Department, estimates that  seatbelt use in his area                                                               
is about 80 percent. Mr.  Winston added that their research shows                                                               
that   the   20  percent   that   aren't   using  seatbelts   are                                                               
predominantly  young males  between 16  and 37  years of  age who                                                               
drive pickup trucks  and consume more than the  average amount of                                                               
alcohol. In addition, those young  males tend to be uninsured and                                                               
are not particularly responsible financially.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
The Bush administration supports  the legislation strongly, which                                                               
is  why President  Bush  put  the bonus  program  in the  current                                                               
highway bill. As previously stated,  $3.9 million is available to                                                               
Alaska as an incentive to pass  a more effective seatbelt law. In                                                               
addition,  up  to  $100  million might  be  saved  by  preventing                                                               
serious injury to people that were previously not buckled.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. WINSTON  emphasized that SB  316 would move Alaska  into line                                                               
with other west  coast states all of which have  primary laws. He                                                               
noted that in  Washington state 76 lives were saved  in the first                                                               
year out  of a  previous total  of 630  fatalities. "It's  a very                                                               
good bill and I highly recommend its passage," he said.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOFFMAN  asked if  the  76  people indicated  that  they                                                               
wouldn't have worn a seatbelt if it weren't the law.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. WINSTON clarified there were  76 fewer occupant fatalities in                                                               
2003 than 2002.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOFFMAN  observed  it  might   be  a  result  of  driver                                                               
education.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. WINSTON thought it was the  "Click it or ticket," and "Buckle                                                               
up it's the law fine $101" signs.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN noted  that 80 percent of  Alaskans use seatbelts                                                               
and asked what the rates are for the other 20 states.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. WINSTON  replied the rates  run from  79 percent to  about 95                                                               
percent.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN asked for a copy  of that data listing the states                                                               
and the usage.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. WINSTON said he would supply that information.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN remarked,  "The biggest target group is  16 to 37                                                               
year old pickup drivin' beer drinkin' males."                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. WINSTON agreed  and added that those statistics  are from all                                                               
50 states, not just Alaska.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
DON  SMITH, administrator  of the  Alaska Highway  Safety Office,                                                               
handed out pamphlets  showing that in 2003 there  were 94 highway                                                               
fatalities  in  Alaska.  The  data was  further  broken  down  by                                                               
geographic area  and whether  or not  the fatally  injured person                                                               
was wearing a seatbelt.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR COWDERY  noticed that motorcycles  were listed  and asked                                                               
if motorcycles had seatbelts.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
DON  SMITH  replied the  information  is  a  summary of  all  the                                                               
various   accidents  so   all   motorcyclists,  bicyclists,   and                                                               
pedestrians that were involved in  traffic fatalities were listed                                                               
in the NA category.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Noting  that  major trauma  traffic  accidents  that entail  long                                                               
hospital stays and  long-term disability cost an  average of $1.3                                                               
million per accident, he postulated  that increasing seatbelt use                                                               
another 10 percent  would probably save 10 or 12  lives each year                                                               
and as a consequence, quite a lot of pain, suffering and money.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
CINDY  CASHEN, executive  director  of the  MAAD Juneau  chapter,                                                               
introduced  herself and  told members  that she  was representing                                                               
the four Alaska MAAD chapters. She  stated support for SB 316 and                                                               
described  seatbelts  as  "our   best  defense  against  a  drunk                                                               
driver."                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
AL   STOREY,  lieutenant   and  legislative   liaison  from   the                                                               
Department  of  Public  Safety, reported  that  the  commissioner                                                               
supports  changing  the  law from  secondary  to  primary.  After                                                               
spending  26 years  in law  enforcement,  he feels  this is  long                                                               
overdue.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MR. STOREY  advised he has been  in law enforcement for  24 years                                                               
and  when he  was a  patrol officer  he spent  a number  of years                                                               
responding to motor vehicle accidents.  He detailed the ways that                                                               
motor  vehicle  accidents  impact lives  and  couldn't  emphasize                                                               
enough how important it is to  wear your seatbelt. When he polled                                                               
troopers  across  the  state asking  what  kinds  of  legislative                                                               
changes they  would like  to see,  the number  one answer  was to                                                               
make seatbelt usage  a primary offense so that  more people would                                                               
wear them.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS asked him  to verify  that the state  fine is                                                               
$15,  that  municipalities  can  have  varying  fines,  and  that                                                               
seatbelt violations remove zero points from a driving license.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. STOREY agreed  and added it's also correct that  the fine may                                                               
be donated to  a local medical response  organization rather than                                                               
to the court.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN asked what the  department's position would be to                                                               
an  amendment that  said  the  police are  not  able  to use  the                                                               
seatbelt violation as a pretext search.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. STOREY acknowledged that is a concern but,                                                                                  
     It doesn't  seem appropriate that  we should  take away                                                                    
     that person's  right to  give us  permission if  we ask                                                                    
     them for that permission.  It seems that anybody should                                                                    
     be able  to give consent  to a search of  themselves or                                                                    
     their vehicle if  we're to have contact  with them. The                                                                    
     question  then being  is that  do  we want  to use  the                                                                    
     seatbelt as a  means of contacting them?  Well, if it's                                                                    
     not fastened  then we do  need to contact them  to talk                                                                    
     about that issue in and of itself.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN asked if his answer was yes or no.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR. STOREY replied,                                                                                                             
     If  they don't  have a  seatbelt on  then we  certainly                                                                    
     should  have  a legitimate  right  to  contact them  to                                                                    
     discuss that.  If that  develops into  an investigation                                                                    
     of  another  type  it  seems  appropriate  that  police                                                                    
     officer should  follow the leads as  they are presented                                                                    
     to them and that's just good police work.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN again asked whether his answer was yes or no.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. STOREY  replied, "I  would not  be in  favor of  an amendment                                                               
that  would restrict  us from  asking additional  questions about                                                               
things we discover during the course of our traffic contact.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  asked how they might handle  the situation in                                                               
which  an  individual  tries  to fasten  their  seatbelt  as  the                                                               
officer approaches the car.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. STOREY  replied that already  happens and the  officer simply                                                               
discusses proper seatbelt use with  the driver and wouldn't issue                                                               
a citation if the elements of the violation are not present.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
PEGGY HYASHE, a registered nurse  representing the Alaska Nurses'                                                               
Association and Alaska  Safe Kids, spoke in strong  support of SB                                                               
316. She  said that after nearly  40 years of being  an emergency                                                               
nurse this  is very  important to  her. For  general information,                                                               
seatbelts came  into effect in  1965 and lap shoulder  belts came                                                               
into effect in  1973 so there is sufficient data  to evaluate the                                                               
effectiveness   of  seatbelts.   Ongoing  education   and  strong                                                               
enforcement of  primary seatbelt  laws does have  an affect  of a                                                               
population.  She  concluded,  "It  takes very  little  to  put  a                                                               
seatbelt on; it takes lots more to plan a funeral."                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS announced  that he would  lose the  quorum at                                                               
5:30 pm.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
KEVIN  QUINLIN,  chief  of  safety  advocacy  with  the  National                                                               
Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),  spoke via teleconference and                                                               
noted  that  the  committee  had  his  written  testimony.  [Full                                                               
written testimony  may be found  in the  bill file.] He  made the                                                               
point   that  the   NTSB   conducts   objective  and   scientific                                                               
investigations.  The   product  of   their  investigation   is  a                                                               
recommendation that the state may adapt to their need.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
An important factor that hadn't  been mentioned is that seatbelts                                                               
prevent ejections. He continued to say that,                                                                                    
     Those  who do  not  wear belt  are  ejected from  their                                                                    
     vehicles  30 percent  of  the time  and  73 percent  of                                                                    
     ejectees die.  Further, belt use decreases,  that is it                                                                    
     goes  down,  with  increasing crash  severity.  ...  We                                                                    
     looked at an eight year  period and we found nearly 600                                                                    
     vehicle  occupants died  in Alaska  and  64 percent  of                                                                    
     them  were   unrestrained.  In  2002,  there   were  37                                                                    
     unrestrained fatalities.  Seatbelts are between  45 and                                                                    
     73 percent  effective in  reducing fatalities.  I think                                                                    
     that's an important range  to differentiate because the                                                                    
     low end is  for cars and drivers in  cars in particular                                                                    
     and the higher end is  for pickup trucks and SUVs. It's                                                                    
     possible if  you have  a greater  SUV and  pickup truck                                                                    
     population  your law  would be  more effective  than it                                                                    
     would be in  some other states. We  estimated, based on                                                                    
     a conservative  50 percent effectiveness, that  in 2002                                                                    
     you would have prevented 18  deaths and saved about $18                                                                    
     million.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. QUINLAN  said there is  popular support for  primary seatbelt                                                               
laws and  the NTSB strongly  supports adoption of SB  316 because                                                               
they  know it  is the  most effective  action to  take to  reduce                                                               
highway fatalities and injuries every year.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
A brand new study says,                                                                                                         
     One of the strongest predictors  of higher belt use for                                                                    
     both  drivers  and  passengers was  whether  the  crash                                                                    
     occurred in a state with  a primary belt law. Mean belt                                                                    
     use  fatally  injured  teenage   drivers  was  only  36                                                                    
     percent and  fatally injured teenage passengers  was 23                                                                    
     percent. These are  some of our higher  risk folks, but                                                                    
     it's  not 21  to 37,  it  includes those  who are  just                                                                    
     starting  driving.... We  think  this  is so  important                                                                    
     that  it  is   on  our  list  of   most  wanted  safety                                                                    
     recommendations  right   up  there  with   measures  to                                                                    
     prevent aircraft fuel tanks from exploding.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOFFMAN challenged  the statement  that seatbelt  use is                                                               
the highest and  best use to reduce fatalities  and asked whether                                                               
reducing speeds wouldn't result in fewer accidents.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MR. QUINLAN  replied he  doesn't have  any indication  that lower                                                               
speed would reduce  accidents and fatalities as  much as seatbelt                                                               
use would.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CORLUS  TAYLOR, manager  for education  and staff  development at                                                               
Fairbanks Memorial  Hospital, spoke via teleconference  in strong                                                               
support of  SB 316.  She agreed with  the previous  testimony and                                                               
although  the  statistics  are  important,  she  appreciated  the                                                               
individuals who  put personal touches in  their testimony because                                                               
the bottom  line is, "We're  still talking about our  friends and                                                               
neighbors."                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
LINDA  WILSON,  deputy director  of  the  Alaska Public  Defender                                                               
Agency testified via  teleconference to say that  she agrees that                                                               
seatbelts save lives. However, she  wanted to clarify that Alaska                                                               
is actually  a hybrid  state rather than  a secondary  state with                                                               
regard   to  seatbelt   use  and,   she   cautioned,  there   are                                                               
ramifications associated with  repealing AS 28.05.095(e). Section                                                               
(e)  is  the secondary  law  portion  that prohibits  stopping  a                                                               
driver who is over 16 for  not wearing a seatbelt unless there is                                                               
anther reason for the stop and (e) only applies to (a).                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Section  (b) is  the primary  law part  and it  says that  anyone                                                               
under 16  who is riding  in a car must  be wearing a  seatbelt or                                                               
sitting in a  child safety device. Currently the  police can stop                                                               
a driver if they see someone in  the car that is under 16 and not                                                               
properly seat belted or restrained.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
With regard  to the fines,  she clarified that  violating section                                                               
(a), which is for someone over 16,  the fine is $15 and no points                                                               
are  assessed. However  under section  (b),  which addresses  any                                                               
passenger  in  the   car  who  is  under  16   and  not  properly                                                               
restrained, there is a $50 fine and points are assessed.                                                                        
If the  law becomes primary  for adults, the agency  is concerned                                                               
that this will  validate pretext stops. The police  would be able                                                               
to  pull a  driver over  on the  pretext that  they didn't  see a                                                               
seatbelt in  use when  they were  really interested  in something                                                               
else.  Although she  didn't believe  that  is the  intent of  the                                                               
bill,  she expressed  concern that  that would  be an  unintended                                                               
consequence.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
She  suggested  that the  "Click  it  or Ticket"  program  raises                                                               
public  awareness of  the benefits  of wearing  seatbelts. "Maybe                                                               
just raising the  fines for these offenses would get  us where we                                                               
would  want to  be without  changing this  to address  adults and                                                               
make it 100 percent primary  instead of the quasi-primary that we                                                               
are now."                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Finally, she  noted that there would  be a fiscal impact  if this                                                               
were to  pass. If  the police  are making  more stops  because of                                                               
seatbelts,  then more  things will  come to  their attention  and                                                               
more things will be prosecuted, she reasoned.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MARIE  LAVINE, executive  director  of the  Alaska Public  Health                                                               
Association testified  via teleconference to represent  more than                                                               
200 public  health professionals across  Alaska in support  of SB                                                               
316. They are committed to  developing sound public health policy                                                               
to improve the  health of all Alaskans and this  includes the use                                                               
of  seatbelts.  They  have long  recognized  just  how  effective                                                               
seatbelts  are in  minimizing injury  and  death as  a result  of                                                               
traffic  accidents. She  urged  the committee  to  pass the  bill                                                               
quickly.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
04-12, SIDE A                                                                                                                 
5:05 pm                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SERGANT DAN WELLBORN testified  via teleconference from Fairbanks                                                               
in  support of  SB 316.  He said  he has  attended the  Northwest                                                               
Traffic  Institute for  accident investigation  and is  currently                                                               
called out for  serious injury and fatal  accidents. In addition,                                                               
he  has  participated   in  a  number  of   safety  training  and                                                               
certification  programs and  is committed  to the  enforcement of                                                               
seatbelt use.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Education does work,  he insisted, and perhaps  more important is                                                               
that  when adults  wear a  seatbelt, statistics  show that  their                                                               
children do too.  Children who wear seatbelts grow  up and become                                                               
adults who wear  seatbelts. Although education might  not make an                                                               
adult  buckle  up,  enforcement will,  he  asserted.  "You  don't                                                               
forget a ticket."                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
JOAN   DIAMOND,   Municipality   of   Anchorage   representative,                                                               
testified via  teleconference in support of  the primary seatbelt                                                               
law. She validated the data given previously.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CHIEF WALT  MONAGAN, Anchorage  Police Department,  testified via                                                               
teleconference to say that he  echoed everything that had already                                                               
been said. He acknowledged that people  do tend to buckle up when                                                               
they see his car and if  that's what it takes that's fine because                                                               
he's  gone to  more  accidents in  his career  than  he wants  to                                                               
remember. "I am  a strong supporter of a  primary seatbelt usage.                                                               
...  The main  thrust of  this is  not a  fine generation.  It is                                                               
solely for the purpose of safety.  Not only for the safety of the                                                               
occupants inside,  but for the  individuals who are  also sharing                                                               
the road.... We have a duty  to be respectful, courteous, and law                                                               
abiding for the safety of everyone."                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS closed the  public testimony and  brought the                                                               
discussion  back before  the committee.  He noted  that education                                                               
was emphasized  throughout the testimony and  asked Senator Bunde                                                               
to comment  on whether part of  the $4 million would  be used for                                                               
education programs.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BUNDE  replied,  "There's   $4  million  plus  there  is                                                               
additional monies available for education."                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked for a motion.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR COWDERY made a motion to  move SB 316 from committee with                                                               
the attached fiscal  note. He asked for  unanimous consent. There                                                               
being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                          

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