Jefferson Hills police tell teen drivers about new law

March 8, 2012 6:01 am

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Drivers younger than 18 who do not buckle up may now be pulled over and cited just for that offense.

Act 81, which took effect Dec. 27, makes failure to use a seat belt a primary offense for those younger than 18.

"It used to be a secondary offense, meaning the officer had to first stop a car for a moving violation," Jefferson Hills police Chief Gene Roach said.

To educate young motorists about the change and others that are part of the new law, officers of the Jefferson Hills Police Department distributed more than 100 informational fliers to student drivers at Thomas Jefferson High School.

The program is funded with a grant to the borough police department from PennDOT, designed to increase seat belt usage -- and ultimately save lives.

Act 81, which applies to young drivers, also increases the requirement for supervised, behind-the-wheel experience for learners permit-holders under age 18 from 50 hours to 65 hours, and places increased restrictions on the number and age of passengers that the holder of a junior driver license may transport.

In 2010, 61 people ages 16 to 19 were killed in motor vehicle accidents statewide while not wearing seat belts, PennDOT statistics show.

Of those teens, 38 were the vehicles' drivers.

Overall, 58.2 percent of those killed in occupant-related traffic crashes that year had not buckled their seat belts.

Called the Teen Seat Belt Mobilization program, the Jefferson Hills police effort also involves working with the high school to raise awareness, Chief Roach said. "We made public address announcements, and will be doing posters," he said.

"We may put together small, student-led groups that will serve as question-and-answer sessions on the changes," high school principal Tim Haselhoff said.

"I can imagine kids leaving, such as after musical practice, and someone asking for a ride, and not thinking about the law and being pulled over," he said.

Under Act 81, if a belted driver who is younger than 18 has an unbelted passenger younger than 18, the driver will be cited because it is his responsibility to make sure all passengers are secured.

But if that driver's unbelted passenger is 18 or older, there is no violation.

Chief Roach said police are also asking for family support.

"Parents have to help out as they have the greatest impact on their children," he said.

The fine is $10 for each violation, plus court costs if the driver pleads not guilty. Violations do not carry points in PennDOT's cumulative point system.

"I hope we never have to give a citation out as it means everyone is wearing a seat belt," Mr. Roach said.

For more information on Act 81 of 2011, visit:

www.dmv.state.pa.us/teenDriversCenter/newTeenDriversLaw.shtml.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.
First Published 2012-03-08 05:03:55

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