In 17 states, you can’t be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt.
Now that doesn’t mean cops can’t write you a ticket for it, it just means you have to be pulled over for something else first, like, failure to yield, speeding, robbing a bank, running over your neighbor … whatever.
They’re referred to as “secondary violation states” and it basically means once an officer blue-lights you for whatever you did, then they can add on a seat belt violation as a little extra “Ha ha! Take that as well, you rebel scum!”
OK, maybe I’m going a little overboard.
Anyway, I did not realize South Carolina was not one of those secondary violation states. Here, they don’t don’t need you to blow that red light first — all they need is a clear view of your unrestrained shoulder blade and BAM.
And you know who’s got some eagle eyes on the force? The City of Liberty Police Department.
On Wednesday morning, I was running the paper route when one of Liberty’s finest whipped in behind me and flipped on the blues. I was between stops at the time, having just left Ingle’s and was headed to the post office. Stacks of newspapers filled my passenger seat, the radio was on full blast, and honestly, I’m probably lucky I wasn’t charged with failure to yield to blue lights because it seriously didn’t register that he was there for me until he blocked my car in at the post office.
I killed the radio, placed my hands on the wheel and nervously watched him approach while running through my head what is was that I could have done. I knew I wasn’t speeding, I hadn’t ran any stop signs — what could it have been? The seat belt never even entered my mind.
And you know why? Because I always wear it.
I’m the one who nags my husband (who never wears it) to buckle-up. I’m the one who cars fly by and shoot me dirty looks for driving the speed limit when everyone else is going 10 over. I’m the one who turns their phone off for safety every time before backing out of the driveway.
I’m the one who’s never had a ticket in her life and the only time I’ve ever been pulled over was nearly 10 years ago in Powdersville on a case of mistaken identity. (Someone driving a car similar to mine had stolen gas. Justice prevailed when it was revealed I was driving on “E” and the real thief was discovered just down the road.)
The fact I was being cited for a seat belt violation felt like a miscarriage of justice — until I realized, he was right.
It didn’t matter if I had worn it 99 times out of the last 100 and it didn’t matter that I was delivering papers and had to constantly jump in and out of the car. The simple fact was I was required to wear it — I wasn’t — and a cop saw me. Plain and simple.
To his credit, the officer was super friendly. He assured me I wouldn’t get points on my license, insurance companies weren’t notified, and I didn’t have to go to traffic court or anything.
All I needed to do was pay the $25 fine, either in person or online, within 90 days. OK, I’m not happy about it, but I can handle it. It was, after all, my own fault.
But in truth, the worst part isn’t even the $25 ticket — not even close. The worst part is when you’re sitting in your car waiting for your ticket and everyone around you going about their business is witness to your shame. It’s soooo embarrassing. You get the curious stares, the occasional sympathetic nod, but everyone — and I mean everyone — looks.
“I wonder what she did,” I picture the old ladies whispering to each other as they shake their heads at my obvious disregard for public morality and justice. “She must have been busted bringing up pounds of the marijuana! You can tell because she listens to loud music …”
One man in particular caught me in his line of sight as he was entering the Post Office and was nice enough to give a friendly smile. “Wear your seat belt!” I called said to him as he passed back by.
“Oh, I do,” he said. “I do.”
Kasie Strickland is the managing editor for The Sentinel-Progress and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the newspaper’s opinion.