Seat belt laws get stiffer at June 13.

Until now, not wearing a seat belt didn’t mean an officer would stop you.

After June 13, failure to click up means law enforcement officers can pull you over for that offense alone and smack you with an $86 fine.

Meanwhile, the much-discussed “Click it or Ticket” seat belt emphasis patrols — backed by a $500,000 media blitz — will start statewide and across Kitsap on Monday, May 20, and run through June 2.

The state opted to join the nationwide law enforcement effort to raise awareness and increase seat belt use among drivers.

In Washington, current seat belt use rates hover around 80 percent, according to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission. And research indicates seat belts increase a passenger’s chances of surviving a crash by 70 percent.

The comprehensive law enforcement campaign also dovetails with a new state seat belt law, set to take effect June 13.

The new law will make failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense, meaning officers can pull drivers over solely for not wearing a seat belt.

Currently, failure to wear a seatbelt is only a secondary offense — meaning officers can’t just pull drivers over for not wearing a seat belt, unless a child under 10 is unrestrained in the vehicle.

“This is an opportunity for the state patrol to educate the public on the importance of the June 13 date,” said Trooper Glenn Tyrrell, a Washington State Patrol spokesman for District 8, which covers seven counties including Kitsap.

Since the federally funded media campaign hit the radio waves, complaints have poured into his office, Tyrrell said. Most of the complaints center on individual harm versus societal harm.

“The questions I’ve heard relate to individual rights and whether someone has the right to put him or herself in harm’s way,” Tyrrell said. “In fact, injuries may only affect that person, but the cost of those injuries are for everyone.”

As it is now, medical costs from collisions amount to about $276 million a year in Washington, according to the Traffic Safety Commission, and analysts say state residents absorb about 30 percent of those costs.

An unbelted driver’s medical costs are, on average, $11,000 more than a belted driver’s costs.

More than 100 law enforcement agencies are involved in the statewide effort, and an additional $500,000 federal grant will help pay for officer overtime during the statewide emphasis patrols.

Tyrrell said the “Click it” patrols will focus on traffic safety violations, such as speeding, following too closely or veering in and out of lanes. That’s because cops currently can’t pull drivers over just for not wearing seatbelts — at least not until June 13.

But if officers discover drivers aren’t wearing their seat belts, they’re in for a citation.

“The state patrol is operating under its zero-tolerance policy,” Tyrrell said.

Violators will be fined $86 for not wearing their seatbelts and an additional $86 for every passenger not wearing a belt. If passengers 16 years old or older are not wearing belts, they will receive their own $86 tickets.

Those fine amounts will remain unchanged after June 13.

The state has had a seat belt law since 1986.

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