May 28, 2009

Primary seat-belt law will be in use in MN

From MN daily:

New law will enforce seat belt use

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a primary seat belt bill into law Thursday that will allow police to pull drivers over simply for failing to wear a seat belt. The law, which will go into effect on June 9, will replace a more than 20-year-old secondary seat belt law that allows officers to ticket someone for not wearing a seat belt only if they first witness a moving violation.

The previous law also only requires that the driver, a front-seat passenger and a passenger in any seat between three and 11-years-old wear a seat belt. The new law requires all passengers — regardless of age or seating position — to wear a seat belt. Violators will face a $25 fine.

Some people have voiced their favor for this policy, hoping that the primary seat-belt law would help reduce crashes in MN. Nevertheless, other argue that enforcing a stronger law on seat belt would lead to people's even riskier behavior in driving, especially on highways. Also, there are concerns on the possible side effects of racial profiling and "nicking someone’s pocket book" through a law like this.

I believe that the lure of money is the much bigger reason for legislators to enforce this law. From Politics in Minnesota:

Minnesota has already received $15.3 million from a federal incentive program based on the state’s 85 percent level of seat-belt use over two years (2007-08). An additional $3.4 million in federal funds will be available in FY 2010, but only if a primary seat-belt law is on the books by June of this year.

Of course, House sponsor Rep. Kim Norton was pleased: "By enforcing seat-belt laws as a primary offense, we not only help prevent many of those injuries and those costs, we make Minnesota eligible for millions of dollars in federal funding. In a time of serious budget shortfall, those savings have never been more welcome.”

If we look at the findings from previous studies, the effects of safety belt usage are controversial per se. Some research contended for a happy ending -- primary enforcement laws are likely to be more effective than secondary laws. Whereas another research showed that the population safety belt usage rate (at least, at the current rates) is associated with little or no effect on reducing fatality rates, although this policy might help reduce fatal crashes.

OK, it is possible that the primary seat-belt law could save more lives, yet I also believe the major reason for passing the law is just not that simple. That's why public discourse is important --- it helps unveil which interest groups would de facto benefit from adopting this law and how.

March 9, 2009

More people than ever are using mass transit

From Startribune.

More people are using mass transit in the US

Looks like almost everyone is trying to save money on transportation. VMT in the Twin Cities also declines in this period of economic downturn. See the recent post from my advisor's blog (the Transportationist).