New traffic laws going into effect this week across state
Diane McGee is among the 77 percent of drivers in Kansas who wear their seat belts, either while driving or as a passenger in the front seat of a vehicle making its way down interstate highways, major thoroughfares or county roads.
A new state law mandating seat-belt use took effect Wednesday, one of several new traffic laws that go into effect this week. Whether the new seat belt law, which imposes a $5 fine on violators, helps steer the other 23 percent into compliance remains an open question.
“Seems like if you’re wanting to enforce it, you should make it a little more drastic,” McGee said Tuesday, after exiting the driver’s license bureau in North Lawrence. “I’d make it more than $5. I don’t think it’s going to make that much difference.”
But the new fine — following up on the primary seat-belt law that took effect with warnings June 10 — will be looked upon to help boost the numbers of Kansas drivers using proper restraints.
According to information compiled by state departments of transportation, Kansas ranks 43rd among the 50 states in terms of seat-belt usage. Michigan, where the fine is $100 per offense, tops the list with 96 percent of drivers wearing seat belts.
The national average is 84 percent.
Kansas officials hope that imposing fines with the new law — one that allows law-enforcement officers to pull over drivers simply for not wearing a seat belt, instead of in conjunction with another violation — will make all the difference.
“This is going to help improve seat-belt compliance,” said Robert Eichkorn, who works in the Bureau of Transportation Safety and Technology at the Kansas Department of Transportation. “We have had a seat-belt law in the state of Kansas since 1985, but the ability to be pulled over for nothing other than not wearing a seat belt might persuade those other 23 percent that it’s not such a good idea.”
Also convincing: Proper use of safety belts reduces the risk of fatal injuries among front-seat passengers by 45 percent overall, and by 60 percent in pickups, SUVs and minivans.
“This isn’t the government trying to tell you what to do,” Eichkorn said. “This is simply an attempt to keep everyone as safe as possible on Kansas roadways.”
A texting ban is another new piece of legislation in Kansas. The ban prohibits a driver from using a wireless device to write, send, or read a written communication while operating a motor vehicle on a public road or highway. This includes text messages, instant messages, and e-mails.
Exempted from the texting ban are:
• Law enforcement officers or emergency services personnel using the device as part of their scope and duties of such employment.
• A vehicle stopped off of the regularly traveled portion of the roadway.
• As required to read, select or enter a number or name to place a phone call.
• To read emergency, traffic or weather alerts.
• Receiving a message related to the operation or navigation of the vehicle.
• Reporting current or ongoing illegal activity to law enforcement.
• Preventing imminent injury to a person or property.
• Information between for-hire operators and their dispatcher using a device permanently affixed to the vehicle.
The ban on sending or receiving text messages while driving officially takes effect Thursday, but the violation won’t carry monetary penalties until Jan. 1, said Chris Bortz, assistant traffic safety manager for the Bureau of Transportation Safety and Technology at the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“If you’re engaged in the act of texting, whether you’re sending or receiving, it would be a fine-able offense,” Bortz said. “That’s $60 plus court costs, which, depending on which court you’re in, can average another $80 to $100.”
License plate visibility is addressed by a new law also effective Thursday. This law prohibits a license plate from being covered in whole, or in part, by any clear or opaque material, or any other plastic-like material that affects the plate’s visibility or reflectivity.
In addition to the new laws, two laws that were effective last July will become enforceable by citation effective Thursday. The “Move It Law” mandates that drivers involved in non-injury crashes on interstate, U.S. highways, or any divided or multilane roadways in the state, as long as the vehicles are not transporting hazardous materials, move vehicles out of the lane of traffic if it is safe to do so. This law is intended to keep drivers and passengers safe by getting them out of the lane of traffic and away from oncoming vehicles. If vehicles can be driven, they should be moved to a safer location such as a shoulder or the nearest exit to exchange information or to contact law enforcement.
The warning period for the “Right Lane Law” also expires Thursday. The Right Lane Law prohibits vehicles on highways outside the corporate limits of any city, divided into two or more lanes of traffic proceeding in the same direction, from being operated in the far left lane, except when:
• overtaking and passing another vehicle;
• preparing to make a proper left turn;
• otherwise directed by traffic-control devices; or
• otherwise required by other provisions of law (e.g. stopped emergency or maintenance vehicles).