Federal incentives make tighter seatbelt laws more attractive
And so it goes ...
Nebraskans like to think of themselves as independent, but the seatbelt situation is just one small illustration of how federal tendrils entwine themselves in state and local government.
As it stands now, drivers can be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt, but only after they are stopped for some other reason, say speeding, failure to signal a turn or missing a stop sign.
But wearing seatbelts save lives, statistics show, and the federal government would like more of us to wear them.
As a result, it is offering more federal funding to states that pass laws making not wearing a seatbelt a "primary offense," allowing officers to stop drivers they can tell are not wearing seatbelts, and for no other reason.
Kansas did just that last year, and was rewarded to the tune of $11.2 million in federal funding.
Nebraska, facing a budget shortfall of three-quarter of a billion dollars, would get $7.8 million for doing the same. All but $1 million of that would have to be used for safety engineering, construction or a combination of both. While that does sound restrictive, it would free up funding to be used in other ways.
Last year, a bill to make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense was killed in committee. Is $7.8 million against a $750 million shortfall enough to tempt the Legislature to give in that much more to the federal government?
Only time will tell.