Beginning June 30, Arkansas' seat belt law changes to permit a law enforcement traffic stop based on the primary violation of a motor vehicle driver or front-seat passenger who is not buckled-up. Arkansas becomes the 27th state to enact primary seat belt legislation.
Presently, Arkansas law enforcement officers may only cite a seat belt violation as a secondary offense. In other words, the traffic stop has to be initiated based on a separate primary violation such as speeding, failure to yield or DWI.
During a news conference Colonel Winford E. Phillips, director of the Arkansas State Police and Governor Mike Beebe's Highway Safety representative, along with Senator Hank Wilkins IV and Representative Fred Allen, legislation sponsors, Dr. Joe Thompson, Arkansas Surgeon General, and Ms. Romell Cooks, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, regional administrator, each reminded the public of the June 30 effective date for the change in the law and explained the importance of the change for Arkansas residents.
"We hope motorists will buckle up regardless of any change in enforcement because they are law abiding citizens. Writing more tickets is not the focus of this legislation," Colonel Phillips said. "It is the hope of law enforcement that seat belt use goes up so high we do not have to write a single ticket and as a result have fewer fatal crashes to handle."
Representative Allen said his colleagues knew the legislation would save lives.
"It is a proven fact that when seat belt laws are enforced, lives are saved and injuries are reduced," Allen said. "Most people are already obeying the law so this new law is designed for those who are not. Jurisdictions with stronger belt enforcement laws continue to exhibit generally higher use rates than those with weaker laws."
It was Senator Wilkins' father, a 10-term veteran of the General Assembly, who first convinced him that wearing seat belts saves lives.
"Seat belt legislation has been reviewed for the past six consecutive legislative sessions," Wilkins said. "The time was right for it to pass."
"It's an easy thing to do," he said. "Buckling up does not cost anything, and it only takes three seconds so it's definitely worth the time it takes. Lives of Arkansans are saved each year because they wear their seat belts."
Dr. Thompson agreed that supporters of seat belt legislation have long advocated the primary category for enforcement purposes, but were unable to get the law changed until the proposal was linked to statistics of people not buckled up compared to hospital discharge data and associated financial costs.
"As Arkansas' surgeon general, it is my responsibility to keep our citizens healthy and productive," Thompson said. "When we look at the opportunities to increase health and productivity of our citizens, unintentional death and injury is one place where we can make a difference. Car crashes are the number one cause, and getting people to use their seat belts is the biggest thing we can do to improve this statistic."
"No one likes being told what to do, but this law was passed to help keep people alive," Dr. Thompson said. "The chances of someone surviving a severe car crash are much greater if they're wearing a seat belt."
The impact of the law will be apparent when people see their loved ones walk away from a car crash rather than prepare for a funeral."
When worn correctly, safety belts have proven to reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent -- and by 60 percent in pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans.
For more information about seat belt safety, child safety seats and booster seats, visit the NationalHighway Traffic Safety Administration web site at nhtsa.gov or call the Arkansas Highway Safety Office 501-618-8136.