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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 9, 2006

Seat belt straps under arms violate the law

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

Drivers who wear seat belt straps under theirs arms instead of over their shoulders are violating the law after all.

The Hawai'i Supreme Court yesterday reversed a ruling by the Hawai'i Intermediate Court of Appeals, which threw out a seat belt violation for a Maui woman. Denise Ribbel was ordered to pay $77 in fines and fees after she buckled her seat belt with the strap across her lap but had the shoulder strap under her arm.

In its June 6 ruling, the appeals court held that state law only calls for a driver to be "restrained," not "properly restrained." But in its ruling yesterday, the high court said the state law was meant to require drivers to wear seat belts in a way to prevent injury and death.

"Inasmuch as the clear purpose of the seat belt statute is to protect motorists' safety, it would be absurd to read it as permitting improper use of a seat belt assembly that could cause serious injury to motorists," Associate Justice James Duffy wrote in the high court's ruling.

The high court, however, said the Maui district court wrongly found Ribbel "guilty" of the seat belt offense, which is a civil traffic violation and not a crime. It sent the case back to replace that "guilty" finding with a civil traffic judgment.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.