Few agencies enforcing headlight law

Sunday, December 26, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Most Missourians, it seems, are still in the dark about the state's new law requiring them to turn on their headlights when using their windshield wipers.

The law took effect Aug. 28, but the penalty for failure to comply -- a $10 fine -- didn't kick in until Dec. 1.

As of Friday, the Missouri State Highway Patrol hadn't written any tickets. Police in the state's largest cities-- including St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield -- and in the state capital of Jefferson City have not been enforcing the law.

"I don't think we're going to see a lot of them written," said Capt. Chris Ricks, a patrol spokesman. "It's more of an informative thing for us, a way to tell people that if you have your wipers on, you need to have your headlights on, too."

Some authorities didn't even know about the law -- like Kansas City Police Capt. Jim Pruetting, commander of the department's traffic enforcement unit.

Pruetting, a member of the state's Law Enforcement Traffic Safety Advisory Council, told The Kansas City Star the topic never came up during monthly safety meetings in Jefferson City.

The bill passed after six years of work by its sponsor, Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis.

"If it's bad enough to have your wipers on, you ought to have your headlights on, too," said Dolan's aide, Trent Watson. "Most people do it anyway, but if we can get another 10 to 20 people to do it and save their lives, then that's good."

One drawback is that unless cities pass ordinances to conform with the new state law, violations must be prosecuted at the state level.

But at least one motorists' group calls the law intrusive and unproven.

"We don't think we need to formalize this in statute and set up yet one more reason to pull people over and hand them tickets," said James Baxter, president of the Waunakee, Wis.-based National Motorists Association. "We don't believe there has been any serious evidence that this kind of law has any impact on highway safety."

The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have not commented on the law.

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