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Buckle that seatbelt, or you just might get sent to jail

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Hear the one about the pair of goofball criminals on the lam who got arrested last week after being stopped for driving without having their seatbelts buckled?

No, really.

Allow me to quote from the 'infoflashalert' that came from the Oregon State Police last week.

'Karl Edward Burnice, age 43, and Katrina Rae Cook, age 32, had felony parole violation warrants for their arrest. With the assistance of a Clackamas County deputy, both were arrested and lodged at the Clackamas County Jail for (being) fugitive(s) from justice.'

Oh yeah, there's more: 'The driver was cited for driving while suspended, and the vehicle towed and impounded.'

According to Lt. Gregg Hastings, OSP public information officer, 'On May 24, 2011, at approximately 1:19 p.m., OSP Trooper Tyler Bechtel stopped a 1994 Ford Taurus after observing two unrestrained passengers in the vehicle near Highway 224 and Johnson Road. During contact with the driver and two passengers, it was determined the driver was operating with a suspended license and the passengers were wanted on felony warrants out of Clark County, Wash.

What the rest of us can learn from this, I believe, is this: When we're wanted on warrants - even ones from states clear across a big river - maybe we shouldn't drive around with a suspended license, and (this is probably the key point here) we should buckle our seatbelts.

By now, most of us know somebody who's been caught beltless and had to go to Seatbelt School.

How is it, you might ask, that this lawless (and highly unsafe) behavior is so easily detected by law enforcement people?

Simple - you either have a belt coming up over your shoulder, in plain view of everyone you pass by, or you don't.

It's a lot more obvious, of course, than having a suspended license. Or having felony parole violation warrants out of another state.

Ironically, this wouldn't have been possible when I began driving because the cars that did have seatbelts only had the one piece that comes around your lap. So you couldn't tell from outside the car whether the driver was buckled or not.

Besides, nobody seemed to care that much. Back then, we had kids standing up in the front seat, back seat, wandering all over the car, as if the colossally huge vehicles never actually ran off the road (which, of course, they did).

It's not unusual, if you're a regular reader of police logs like I am, to hear about people being stopped for going 45 in a school zone, only to have the officer discover that the person is on the run for something like escaping from prison or molesting kids or something equally heinous.

You wouldn't think that prison escapees or child molesters would do something so stupid as drive too fast, but apparently they do it all the time.

What's more, they're also often drunk or stoned when they do it, too. Go figure.

Personally, I don't have really strong feelings on the whole seatbelt issue because it could be argued that it's a matter of personal choice if you want to walk away from an accident or not (kinda like bicyclists or motorcycle riders wearing or not wearing helmets).

But the seatbelt law does have one side effect that's kind of cool. By stopping people to write them up for not being buckled, the cops do seem to catch a fair number of stupid criminals who have all sorts of other bad deeds in their past. So, it's something of a gateway infraction that can lead to even better results than just penalizing beltless drivers.

Now, if they'd just start enforcing the law prohibiting people from talking on their phones and texting while driving.

I don't know if it would accomplish anything, but it would sure tickle me.

Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.