New law tightens the belt — todaySen. Steve Murphy thinks Minnesota is on its way to saving 30 lives a year.
By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle
Sen. Steve Murphy thinks Minnesota is on its way to saving 30 lives a year.
That starts today, the Red Wing Democrat said.
"I just don't know any other way to save 30 lives a year than to pass the primary seat belt law," Murphy said Monday, referring to figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Today marks the beginning of the new law, which allows officers to stop and ticket unbelted motorists. Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed it into law last month.
Until today, police needed another reason to stop motorists before seat belt tickets could be issued.
The law takes effect on the 10th anniversary of Meghan Cooper's death. The Kenyon-Wanamingo student was a passenger in a 1999 rollover crash that left her dead at 15.
The bill stalled for 16 sessions in the Legislature until this year. Murphy said House sponsors of the bill "worked the issue hard" this session, garnering bipartisan support.
"I can't claim one ounce of responsibility in that respect," said Murphy, sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
He understands why it took convincing to bring some lawmakers around on the issue. In fact, Murphy said he opposed the bill when he first saw it.
"There's nothing wrong with changing your mind if you're wrong," the five-term senator said.
Red Wing police Chief Tim Sletten called the law "very long overdue."
He also expects it to mean more traffic stops. Sletten insisted enforcement won't be about collecting fines, though he did not expect a honeymoon period for the law.
"I think our patrol force is in a very good position to monitor" violations, Sletten said. "It's all about compliance."
Violators can receive a $25 fine. State surcharges boost the price to $100.
Under the law, drivers also are subject to a $25 fine for every passenger under the age of 15 who is not belted.
During its journey through the Legislature, the bill often came under fire from critics claiming it was intrusive on drivers' rights to personal choice.
Murphy described the scenario of a head-on crash, where an unbelted occupant comes flying out of the opposing vehicle at him.
"That's intruding on my civil rights," he said.