House committee approves further consideration of a teenage seat belt law

PShepherd_1 Rep. Paul Shepherd, right, listens to testimony on teenage seat belt violations in the House Transportation Committee Wednesday.

The issue before a House committee was one that has been posed to the Idaho Legislature in past session. Should a seat belt violation for a teenager be considered a primary violation or leave the law as is, which is a secondary violation?

Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officers to ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense taking place. Secondary seat belt laws state that law enforcement officers may issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another citable traffic infraction.

After 20 minutes of spirited debate Wednesday, the House Transportation Committee voted to assign the legislation a bill number, thus it will be considered by the committee as a potential law.

“This is a matter of individual responsibility,” Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, told his fellow committee members. “It is time for government to encourage personal responsibility in this situation.”

Shepherd was reacting to a legislative proposal presented by Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. Wills, a retired state police officer who now works for a county sheriff’s agency, proposed to the committee that driving without a seat belt should become a primary violation for drivers under the age of 18. Should it become law, violators would be subject to a fine. However, it would not impact a driver’s record because it would not be regarded as a moving violation.

“This bill is simple and easy to understand, and what it will do is simple,” Wills told the committee. “It will save lives.”

Wills explained to the committee that “this will protect some of our youth, because they are not mentally developed enough to resist peer pressure and to make adult decisions like you do.” Wills said that “as a law enforcement officer, I’ve witnessed firsthand how young people suffer with ‘IF,’ the ‘invincibility factor.’ They think they’re invincible, and we need to give them guidance along the way.”

“I’m thinking that this ought to be in the driver’s education legislation,” Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, observed. “I’m wondering if it would be better to make this a part of the driver’s ed program.”

“I agree 100 percent,” Wills responded. “But this is already in the driver’s education program. We now need this law enforcement tool. We can think of this as ‘hard love,’ I believe.”

“I respect Rep.Wills very much,” Shepherd noted during debate. “It is our job as legislators to get the word out and make people aware of dangerous situations, and I’m a parent, grandparent and great grandparent. Yet we’ve been talking about this ever since I’ve been here in the Legislature, and I don’t think we need to continue with this incremental approach. It’s time for us to allow people to be personally responsible.”

“I respect my colleague’s view that we’re going too far on individual liberties and what-not,” Rep. Mark Gibbs, R-Grace, said in response to Shepherd. “But sometimes the choices of teenagers put a strain on our catastrophic health care fund, and I believe we need this bill.”

“I have mixed emotions on this one,” Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, told Wills. “I’m a parent, and my son was recently in a car wreck and he was wearing his seat belt, fortunately. Yet if we make this a primary violation, the cost of the ticket probably goes to the pockets of the parents. What are your thoughts on that?”

“What I can tell you is that as a parent, when I paid the ticket, well, my child certainly did too,” Wills replied.

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