Seat Belts In The Hot Seat

A proposed law to allow cops to pull people over for not wearing their seat belts as a primary offense has passed the state Senate, but whether the bill will meet success in the House of Representatives is unclear.

The debate over whether to enact a primary seat belt law has been argued for several years by legislators. As Colorado Confidential reported earlier this month, several Senate Democrats termed it a measure that would save lives, save money and, as Sen. Chris Romer termed it, install a sort of “stupidity tax” on people who don’t wear their seatbelts.

However, many argue that such laws gives law enforcement too much discretion and invites racial profiling. This week Sen. Ron Tupa, a Boulder Democrat, joined a unanimous GOP Senate caucus in opposing the measure – and now Republicans are heralding Tupa as “one of the legislature’s leading civil libertarians.”

During the Senate hearing this week, Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) told a story about getting pulled over. Brophy is not a person of color, nor did the incident involve his failure to use  a seat belt. But the tale was amusing – as Brophy put it, “the best line I’ve ever heard when being pulled over by an officer” – and so we’ll repeat it here.

The pullover, Brophy said, happened one Saturday night in tiny Wray, in northeast Colorado with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. “[The officer] asked me if I understood what the speed limit was in my hometown… I asked him the next obvious question, I said, ‘Officer how fast was I going?’ – because honest to God I had no idea,” Brophy said.

“He said, ‘I had you on a visual at 32 [miles per hour].’ “

Finished Brophy: “We are equipping our officers these days with radar vision I guess…”

The mandatory seat belt law now heads to the House of Representatives.

Cara DeGette is a longtime Colorado journalist and a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential. E-mail her at