Question: Over Memorial Day weekend, a friend of mine was driving as a group of us went clamming by Ninilchik. He was pulled over by a trooper even though he didn't think he had done anything wrong. The trooper explained to him he was stopped because of a defective taillight, but then he got a ticket because his wife was not wearing a seat belt. He did not get a ticket for the taillight. What's the logic there?
Answer: Alaska is one of the states where seat belt violations are "secondary enforcement," meaning that an officer may not use the observation of an unbelted person as the reason for a traffic stop. I am not supposed to editorialize in this column, but I have always had a problem with laws that allow officers to stop a car for a burned out taillight but not for a toddler jumping around in a front seat unbelted at 60 mph.
Law enforcement agencies sometimes take part in national special enforcement programs, such as the "click it or ticket" program. This was the case over the Memorial Day weekend, and others in the future.
In the case you described, the trooper used the equipment violation as the legal basis for a traffic stop, and used the opportunity to issue a citation for not wearing a seat belt. Your friend was probably only warned about the light, even though that could have been a separate citation.
Regardless of how people feel about being mandated to wear seat belts, it is difficult to argue the success of the enforcment effort this Memorial Day weekend, as there were no serious crashes and nobody was killed. Given the heavy traffic on the peninsula, that fact is worth celebrating.
If you have questions you would like to ask a trooper, send them to Alaska State Troopers, P.O. Box 817, Seward, AK 99664, or e-mail them to brandon_Anderson @dps.state.ak.us. The Alaska State Troopers remind you to always wear your seat belt. It's the law.
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