Letters to the Editor

Government can't make you wear seatbelts

In regards to the May 22 article, "FW police begin seat belt crackdown," the statement that "they won’t be able to pull drivers over simply for not wearing their belts until a new law goes into effect June 13" is incorrect, according to the Revised Code of Washington.

Despite the implied message of the present "Click It or Ticket" advertising program and several media soundbites of law enforcement agencies, state law does not permit an officer to pull over a driver for not wearing a seatbelt. Per RCW 46.61.688, the revised version (which becomes effective July 1, not June 13) continues to maintain present law: a driver cannot be pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. Not wearing a seatbelt is specifically a "secondary" offense, not a "primary" offense for which a driver can be pulled over and detained (note section 7).

In other words, you can drive right by a police officer while not wearing your seatbelt and they can do nothing. If you are speeding at the time, however, or commit any other primary offense, the officer can then cite you for not wearing a seatbelt after citing you (or not) for the primary traffic offense they stopped you for in the first place.

The only change that is occurring to RCW 46.61.688 on July 1 is the added distinction that child passengers under the age of 16 must be wearing a seatbelt or must be securely fastened into an approved child restraint device.

Only the second part –– not having a young child in a child restraint device –– is a primary offense (section 7, referencing subsection 4b, the child restraint device clause). An officer can pull you over for not having your young child in a proper restraint device. In all other cases where you or your passengers are not wearing seatbelts, you can not be pulled over for that infraction alone.

I strongly encourage anyone cited under RCW 46.61.688 to contest the infraction. An officer can not pull over a driver for not wearing a seatbelt, now or even after July 1. It is simply not legal, despite the misleading advertising campaign.

I wear my seatbelt whenever I drive. My wife does. We both ensure our children do. I do it because of my personal choice and responsibility for my and my family's safety, not because of an overzealous government campaign professing to be for my own good.

CHAD HIATT

Federal Way

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