New Seat Belt Law Could Prompt Abuses By Police

April 13, 1999 12:00 am

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COLUMBUS – A bill that would allow police to stop and ticket motorists who are not wearing their seat belts could prompt unlawful searches of vehicles and their passengers, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported today.

“It’s not unusual for citizens to complain to us about being stopped by police for nothing more serious than a broken taillight, only to find themselves the target of a barrage of intrusive and unnecessary questions about where they are going and whether they have any drugs or weapons in the cars,” Chris Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told the Plain Dealer.

The issue is of particular concern to minorities, she told the paper, who believe they are unfairly targeted by police.

Despite such concerns, the bill has strong backing from some of Ohio’s leading interest groups, including insurance companies – and support from Republican Gov. Bob Taft, as well as some of the General Assembly’s leading black members. Taft, and House Minority Leader Jack Ford – a black Democrat from Toledo – both said the seat belt bill would help save lives.

Under current law, a motorist can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt only if police pull them over for another offense.

The ACLU contends that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have eroded constitutional protections against unlawful searches and seizures, and advocates increasing public education about seat belt usage, not increasing police powers. See the ACLU’s newswire at /news/1999/w040699a.html.

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