If you’re one of the 25,000 or more Idahoans per year who don’t buckle up while behind the wheel, the Idaho Transportation Department wants to add processing fees to the fines some seat belt law you pay.
In a report issued by ITD outlining the agency’s legislative objectives for the 2010 legislative session, the department notes Idaho law that requires drivers under the age of 18 to pay both fines and court costs for seat belt violations, but does not require adults to do the same. Adults are even able to fight the tickets in court without the associated costs being assessed.
ITD aims to change the law, generate revenue, and encourage seatbelt usage among adults. Idaho has some of the most lenient seatbelt laws and penalties in the nation. The total cost to an adult who receives a seat belt ticket is $10. The proposed court costs would add $41.50 to that total if implemented.
The report also notes that the counties that process the approximately 25,000 seat belt violations per year are not “receiving adequate compensation for the services they are providing.” ITD estimates that more than $1 million per year could generated if adult drivers are required to pay up.
Molly McCarty, the ITD Government Affairs Program Manager, questions the fairness of the current system: “Should the taxpayers foot the bill for seat belt citation processing, or should the person who broke the law?”
The report contends Idaho’s seat belt laws are ineffective and have led to a decline in seat belt use 2007 and 2008, while other states have seen seat belt use go up.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, a member of the House transportation committee, is a proponent of strengthening seat belt laws as a means of promoting safety and cutting medical costs to the state.
“I would like to see the fine increased and the money go to the catastrophic fund,” said King in a telephone interview. King believes the fine should be increased to $25 per violation, but said she would support the move to add the court costs to the fines adult violators pay.
Rep. JoAn Wood, the chairman of the House transportation committee, is not supportive of the proposal as it currently stands. Wood, a Republican from Rigby, believes the money brought in by the fee increases would be spent irresponsibly.
“The money would go 11 or 13 different places, including some of it being sent to the general fund,” said Wood. Though she is willing to work with ITD to develop a better bill, she and some transportation committee members “aren’t enthused” about plan for funds appropriation.
The committee chair also believes that ITD may be overshadowing the real reasons behind the push for increased penalties for seat belt violators. “They’re trying to get money from the federal government, which is, I believe, about $5 million in funding,” said Wood.
In the ITD report, the department acknowledges that the proposal “may make Idaho eligible for federal grant funding depending on the requirements in the new transportation reauthorization act,” and that “Idaho has been ineligible for any seat belt incentive funds since 2006.” The department would like to use any federal money acquired to fund more educational programs and increased enforcement.
Wood doesn’t share that desire with the department, saying that she has concerns about “all-the-time enforcement” and “taking away people’s freedom.”