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Cops back new seat-belt law

Seat belt law

Change projected to boost use by 5 to 10 percent in Minnesota

It won't happen in time for the big Memorial Day weekend, but law enforcement officers in Minnesota will soon have a new tool at their disposal.

The Legislature recently passed and Gov. Tim Pawlenty has now signed a law that allows officers to stop a vehicle and issue citations if the driver or passengers are not wearing seat belts.

The law is expected to take effect June 9.

Currently, officers may only cite a driver for a seat-belt violation if the driver is first stopped for something like expired license tabs.

"Law enforcement across the country endorses this change, for obvious reasons. There's a plethora of data that seat belts save lives," said Moorhead police Lt. Tory Jacobson.

Officers will watch for seat belt use the way they watch for things such as expired tabs, he said.

"Usually, it's pretty evident somebody doesn't have their seat belt on. Many times, we see people put the seat belt on as we've initiated the traffic stop," Jacobson said.

"It's just a way for our officers to be that much more involved in trying to keep the public safe," he added.

With fines and fees, a seat- belt violation can cost a driver $110, but Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said he doesn't expect a large jump in the number of citations written.

"It's not like I'm going to go tell my deputies to go out there and start pulling 'em over for that reason. It's just another law that will be enforced," said Bergquist.

According to the state of Minnesota, more than half the people killed in vehicle crashes in the state are unrestrained.

The new seat-belt law is expected to increase seat-belt use by 5 to 10 percent, potentially saving 18 to 34 lives a year and preventing up to 431 serious injuries.

Bergquist said if drivers could see the injuries and deaths officers see in the wake of crashes, people wouldn't need laws to make them buckle up.

"It's pretty sad, and it seems so senseless," Bergquist said.