Buckle up, Kansas. Click it, or that ticket just got a bit more expensive. Starting Saturday, the fine for not wearing a seat belt will triple to $30.
The new state law, signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in May, requires anyone 18 years or older caught not wearing a seat belt in a moving vehicle to pay an additional $20.
The extra $20 will go to the Secretary of Transportation and help pay for programs such as S.A.F.E. — Seat belts Are For Everyone. Operating in about 40 percent of Kansas high schools as of 2016, S.A.F.E. is a teen-run program that teaches students the importance of wearing a seat belt.
The $60 fine for a minor found not wearing a restraining device in a moving vehicle is not affected by the new law. No court costs are assessed on the fines.
Will tripling the fine encourage drivers to buckle up?
“That’s the big question,” said Kara Macek, a spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that promotes traffic safety. “I think it’s safe to say that $30 is certainly going to be better than $10. Ten dollars is a pretty nominal price to pay.”
Tripling the fine might not compel people to wear their seat belts, Prairie Village Police Sgt. Eric McCullough said. But high school safety programs might, he said.
“It’s a great idea,” McCullough said. “They’ll teach their own kids to make sure they wear a seat belt.”
Kansas became the 31st state to enact a primary seat belt law in 2010, which allows police to ticket unbelted drivers without another infraction. Fines for violations used to vary greatly from city to city, a fact Kansas lawmakers were unhappy about. The state sought to enhance compliance by approving a controversial 2011 bill that capped seat belt fines at $10.
The state intended to prevent cities from generating revenue by penalizing drivers with high fines. Critics argued that $10 wasn’t enough to get drivers to comply with the law.
Leawood City Administrator Scott Lambers noted his frustration over the Legislature’s about-face regarding the fine amount.
“They limited us to 10 bucks,” he said. “Now they want money so they get 20 bucks.”
Before 2010, Leawood imposed a $30 fine for unbelted drivers, as did Olathe, Prairie Village, Shawnee and Kansas City, Kan. Lenexa’s fine was $60. The median seat-belt fine nationwide at that time was $25.
In June, the Leawood City Council amended the section of the standard traffic ordinance pertaining to fines. Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn said residents should know the city’s hands were tied on the matter.
“Just in case you get complaints from constituents now that the fine is $30, we have no choice,” she said.
Macek said her answer to critics is simple: wear a seat belt and you won’t be fined.
“If everyone buckled up, we wouldn’t need to go to all these measures,” Macek said.
Missouri is one of 15 states with a secondary seat belt law — officers can only ticket unbelted drivers if they are first stopped for another reason. The fine for driving without a seat belt is capped at $10.
In 2016, 87 percent of Kansans wore seatbelts, which was higher than Missouri’s 81 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nationwide, seat belt use was 90 percent.
Out of more than 1,100 traffic stops last month, the Leawood Police Department’s third most common violation cited by officers after speeding and driving without insurance was for adults not wearing seat belts.
Prairie Village stepped up seat belt enforcement with a “Click It or Ticket” campaign that ran from May 22 to June 4. Police wrote 155 seat belt citations and stopped 152 cars during the campaign.