Minnesota’s recent seat belt law and last year’s text messaging ban expanded law enforcement officers’ authority to pull drivers over, because both laws are “primary enforcement,” laws, or laws that allow officers to pull drivers over for violating them, without requiring that there be another reason for the officer to stop the driver. The new “Click it or Ticket” law went into effect on June 9, 2009. It replaces the secondary enforcement seatbelt law that was in effect for over 20 years in Minnesota.
So, what exactly changed on Tuesday? Well, two main things: First, now an officer can be pull you over if your seatbelt isn’t fastened, unlike under the old law where an officer had to have a primary reason to stop you, and could only give you an additional ticket if you belt wasn’t fastened. And second, now everyone in the car must be buckled in – not just the driver, the person in the front seat and kids, which is all the old law required.
What does that mean in Minnesota DUI law? One of the main defenses against a DWI charge in Minnesota is the officer’s probable cause for stopping a driver. If a Minnesota DWI lawyer argues, and the court finds, that there wasn’t sufficient cause for a stop that resulted in DUI charges, the charges are dismissed. Now, under the new seat belt law, not wearing one’s seat belt is sufficient cause for an officer to stop a vehicle, and the argument of an illegal or insufficient basis for the stop becomes much more difficult to argue.
An officer still needs to observe behavior from a stopped driver that warrants a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a driver is under the influence of alcohol in order for an officer to be able to administer a Preliminary Breath Test and Field Sobriety Tests. However, it’s much easier for an officer to detect the odor of alcohol or hear slurred speech when an officer is talking to a driver he stopped because of a seat belt violation, than when an officer is watching a car just drive by, minding its own business!
To be fair, there are a couple really compelling reasons why the Minnesota Legislature passed the seat belt law that have nothing to do with DUI charges or law enforcement’s authority: Lives and dollars. Turns out, by passing a primary seat belt law, Minnesota qualifies for some federal funding that it couldn’t otherwise, and statistically, wearing seat belts saves lives in car crashes which in turn saves resources like ambulance travel and paramedics’ time and therefore state tax dollars. State Senator Steve Murphy wrote an article talking about these factors, with the numbers to back them up. Click here to learn more.
Related Topic: Minnesota’s Text Messaging Ban
Last August, in 2008, Minnesota’s Text Messaging Ban went into effect. The law states that text messaging, emailing or accessing the internet on a wireless device, while driving in Minnesota – even if stopped in traffic – is a primary offense which can result in a fine of $300, regardless of the driver’s age. The law does not include the use of navigation devices or wireless devices that are permanently affixed to the vehicle. This means that no matter how old – or young – you are, if you’re texting or emailing on your cell phone while driving, an officer can pull you over, period. As for talking on your cell phone, well, that’s not as clear cut. Novice drivers (individuals with learners’ permits) and school bus drivers are not allowed any cell phone use while driving. Everyone else may use a cell phone to talk while driving.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Association website has a great chart that compares cell phone driving laws by state, and was just updated this month. The link to that chart is here.