Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/26/2004 03:33 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 316-SEAT BELT VIOLATION AS PRIMARY OFFENSE 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.