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Minnesota's new seat belt law goes into effect Tuesday; base fine $25

Marilee Dorn, safety officer with the Willmar Police Department, shows how to properly secure a booster seat. Starting July 1, children who are under the age of eight and are also less than 4-feet-9-inches tall must be properly secured in a booster seat that meets federal guidelines. Not doing so could cost a parent $140 in fines and fees. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- Starting Tuesday, Minnesota motorists can be stopped and given a ticket for not wearing a seat belt.

The Legislature passed a primary seat belt bill this spring that allows law enforcement officers to stop a motorists for a seat belt violation. In the past, seat belt citations were only given if someone was stopped for some other reason, like speeding.

"It's always been the law you've got to wear them. Now there's some teeth to it," said Marilee Dorn, Crime Prevention Officer with the Willmar Police Department.

The fine for a seat belt violation is $25, but court costs and surcharges will bring the bill to more than $100.

In Kandiyohi County District Court the penalty will cost $115, said Dorn.

On top of that, passengers who are not wearing seat belts can also receive tickets.

Passengers who are 15 and older can be issued individual tickets if they're not wearing a seat belt.

"Too many teenagers make the choice not to wear their seat belts when they're not with their parents," said Dorn. "That 15-year-old that refuses to put their seat belt on, they can get the $115 ticket.

For every passenger under the age of 15 that is not wearing a seatbelt, the driver will receive a ticket.

That means the driver could end up with a fistful of tickets if young children are not buckled up. The driver will have to pay a $25 fine for each unbuckled individual, but only one surcharge will be included with the stop, she said.

In 1986, after the secondary seat belt law was passed in Minnesota, there was a 20-30 percent increase in seat belt usage, said Dorn. "But it kind of stalled there."

Dorn said another 10 percent will start buckling up on Tuesday because they don't want to risk being pulled over.

A recent survey by law enforcement showed that 75 percent of motorists in Kandiyohi County wear seat belts. Motorists driving in Willmar were at 70 percent.

For those who continue to resist wearing seat belts it'll take "two tickets to get them to buckle up," said Dorn. "They're really stubborn about it."

Law enforcement officers have been eagerly awaiting implementation of the stricter bill and Dorn predicts they will begin stopping and ticketing motorists on Tuesday if they see a seat belt hanging by the car door instead of across the chest of a driver or passenger.

Too many officers have been on the front-line duty at accidents and seen injuries that could've been avoided or reduced if seat belts had been worn, said Dorn.

"They don't like to deal with the injuries at crashes," she said. "And we know that seat belts do prevent severe injuries."