State police scale back seatbelt law enforcement

August 31, 2011 5:14:21 AM PDT
In this Intelligence Report: You don't often hear about police departments scaling back on law enforcement, but the I-Team has learned that is just what is happening when it comes to seat belts and the Illinois State Police.

The new director of the Illinois State Police has just sent out an order to all state troopers that relaxes the way they are to enforce Illinois' mandatory seat belt law.

Wearing seat belts is still required for drivers and all passengers in Illinois, but now -- under this new order -- whether violators get tickets is up to individual state troopers.

For the last decade in Illinois, state troopers were required to give tickets to all motorists stopped without wearing a seat belt. Now, veering away from that strict enforcement, they have been given the authority to write warnings to violators.

The new policy is the handiwork of Hiram Grau, the newly installed director of the state police who believes that such leniency toward the "inadvertent" seat belt violator may have a positive impact on those skeptics who don't regularly wear seat belts.

According to Grau's internal memo, obtained by the I-Team, he is reversing the long-practiced policy that required citations under "Click it or Ticket."

Under the new strategy, Grau writes, "All officers will have the discretion to issue written warnings for violations relating to the use of safety belts."

However, if a driver has received a previous warning or if there are unbelted children in the vehicle, no warning will be allowed and a ticket must automatically be issued.

This summer, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn tightened Illinois law by requiring all occupants of vehicles to be belted, including those in the back seat. That doesn't change, although now, state police will be able to issue warnings to drivers even in those cases.

The AAA Chicago Motor Club says "Illinois has enjoyed steady increases in seat belt use, which has certainly contributed to the lowest fatality rates we've seen since the 1920s. Seat belt enforcement by the Illinois State Police and others in law enforcement has played a primary role in this. We know that the ISP is committed to keeping Illinois roads safe and are confident that a change in policy won't alter their commitment to safety."

Illinois' unforgiving seat belt enforcement has resulted in several positives over the years:

  • Compliance jumped from 15 percent in 1985 to 92 percent currently,
  • deaths and serious injuries are down,
  • and in a state that is broke, with 96,000 seat belt tickets issued last year at $25 each, it was a source of steady income.


Illinois State Police credit the occupant restraint policy with reducing driving fatalities and saving lives. It's because of the public awareness over the last 20 years that motorists comply with the seat belt laws, and the compliance rate today is steadily approaching 100 percent.

Our officers deserve a great deal of credit by enforcing these restraint laws, but there is more to their law enforcement mission. As stewards of public safety who have taken an oath to protect the rights, property and lives of citizens, they also uphold an oath to be courteous and charitable to the inadvertent violator. I am confident that their discretion and judgement will further the mission of public safety and the relationship with the driving public.


Following a thorough review of our occupant restraint policy, a decision has been made regarding safety belt enforcement. Specifically, the issuance of a citation or a written warning should be left to the discretion of the officer.

In 1985, just prior to the safety belt laws going into effect, the safety belt compliance rate in Illinois was slightly more than 15%. Today, the safety belt compliance rate is more than 92%. Much of the gains in the compliance rate are attributable to educating the motoring public, the strict enforcement of our laws, and the continued focus on traffic safety by you. For that you are to be commended.

Effective immediately, all officers will have the discretion to issue written warnings for violations relating to the use of safety belts under 625 ILCS 5/12-603.1, Illinois Vehicle Code, and 625 ILCS 5/18b-103, Section 392.16, The Illinois Motor Carrier Safety Law. However, if an inquiry reveals the driver has previously received a warning for a safety belt violation, the appropriate enforcement action would be the issuance of a citation. I believe discretion toward the inadvertent violator may have a positive impact on the continued skeptical adult violators.

Enforcement of the Child Passenger Protection Act will continue at the current practice of strict enforcement, and issuing only citations for violations of those sections. Young children are not able to make decisions for their safety on their own.

I applaud your successes and continued efforts toward realizing a 100% safety belt compliance rate, and driving toward zero fatalities.

Be safe,

Director Hiram Grau

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