Illinois drivers must wear seat belts if governor signs bill

By Gus Bode

Law expected to increase compliance

Illinois drivers can expect to get pulled over when they are not wearing their seatbelts if Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs a bill that passed the state legislature last month.

The bill, which passed the Illinois House 75-38 and the Illinois Senate 34-24, would give police the authority to pull over motorists who are not wearing a seatbelt.

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“If Blagojevich signs this measure, seat belt violations will become a primary enforcement of this department,” Carbondale Police Chief R.T. Finney said. “However, we will still use Click-It or Ticket Programs as a secondary source of enforcement.”

Currently, Illinois residents are ticketed for seat belt violations only if they are pulled over for another traffic violation.

The Click-It or Ticket program, which ran from May 19 through June 1, conducted a comprehensive crackdown on seat belt safety using measures including safety checks, in which all vehicles passing specific intersections are checked for compliance.

“I do think there will be an increase in seat belt usage,” Finney said. “Compliance always increases with enforcement.”

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation website, states that have implemented similar laws have had safety belt usage increase by 10 percent to 15 percent. Currently, Illinois has a safety belt usage rate of 73.8 percent and if it increased to 85 percent, an additional 144 lives could be saved each year.

Lt. Todd Sigler of the SIU Police Department said he believes that this law would be a step in the right direction for Illinois to improve safety measures for motorists and their passengers.

“It will be advantageous for us,” Sigler said. “With the speed limit reduced to 20 mph on campus, it is important to remember that accidents can also occur at low speeds.”

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James Downhour, a history lecturer at SIUC, said he does not agree with this measure because the decision should be left to the driver or passenger.

“I think that seat belt usage is an issue of individual choice and safety,” Downhour said. “People do stupid stuff all of the time. Jumping out of an airplane is dangerous, but there are no laws against that.”

Dwayne Tunsdall, an SIU student, is also against the bill because he feels that people may be pulled over unjustly.

“I can see why people would want to have this kind of law to increase safety,” Tunsdall said. “But I am afraid that law enforcement would use this law as a means to increase racial profiling.”

Finney, however, said he does not believe his police officers would pull over drivers recklessly.

“Actually, I don’t see the number of seat belt violations going up,” said Finney. “This city has never had any serious problems. Our department will continue to focus on what’s most important. If there is something going on, that will be our first priority, not seat belt violations.”

If Blagojevich signs this measure, Illinois will become the 20th state to put a law into place that makes it illegal for a driver, front seat passenger or child to ride in a vehicle without wearing a safety belt.

Reporter Amber Ellis can be reached at [email protected]

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