South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

New county seat-belt law effective March 7

Drivers who don’t wear a seat belt in unincorporated St. Louis County have until March 7 to do so without being pulled over for that reason.

On that date, an ordinance approved last week by the County Council will give police the right to stop drivers who are observed without seat belts.

While the ordinance does not change the county’s $10 fine for not wearing a seat belt, it does take away the requirement that officers only can write such a ticket if they stop a driver for another reason.

Fifth District Councilman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, introduced a bill for the measure in January. She has said that the law’s point is not to stop drivers, but to persuade them to wear their seat belts.

She also has cited a statistic that roughly 70 percent of people who have died in car crashes were not wearing a seat belt.

Fraser’s bill was approved 5-1 last week by the County Council with 1st District Councilman Hazel Erby, D-University City, voting “no” and 3rd District Councilman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, absent.

Although she said she always wears a seat belt, Erby said she could not support the ordinance because of the potential for racial profiling. Erby is the County Council’s only black member.

That racial-profiling concern, among others, was raised last week by Michael Pakko, an economic research officer for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, in remarks to the County Council.

Pakko said that while he also always wears his seat belt, he philosophically is opposed to the new ordinance. He cited issues of enforceability, effectiveness and the effect on citizen-police relationships as reasons for his opposition.

“As far as I know, this is the only ordinance on the book that gives police the pretense to peer inside your car and detain you if they think you’re not wearing a seat belt,” Pakko said. “The potential for abuse is clear. And while I’m not saying that abuse will take place, I think that those who are concerned that this ordinance might be contributing to the problem or the use of racial profiling, I think they have a good point.”

Sixth District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, however, told the Call that he supports the new measure to pull over drivers not wearing a seat belt because it merely is an extension of the county’s existing law.

“It’s a law right now that you’re supposed to be wearing it,” he said. “The only thing is that police officers weren’t able to pull you over because you weren’t wearing it. I just wanted to complete the law. If that’s the law and you’re supposed to be wearing it, then that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”

But Pakko said he fears the new ordinance will create a more contentious relationship between the public and police.

“The idea is that more people wear seat belts so fewer people will die in auto accidents,” Pakko said. “So the question is how does this law accomplish that objective?

“Well, presumably by inducing people to put on their seat belts out of fear. Fear that they will be stopped, inspected and detained by police. And I’m not sure that that’s the right kind of atmosphere to be providing for a relationship, as I said, between citizens and their public service of police officers.”

The Missouri Legislature also is considering a proposal that would create a similar seat-belt law statewide.

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