Some towns are known as speed traps but one metro town is known for seat belt violations.
Mountain View has issued nearly 4,000 seat belt tickets in the last 3 years.
Colorado considers seat belt violations a secondary violation, meaning drivers typically need to be pulled over for a primary offense like speeding, before police can ticket them for a seat belt violation.
But, as Denver resident Summer Borga found out, Mountain View has its own rules.
Borga received an $80 dollar ticket near 44th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard in early October.
“When he stopped me, I asked ‘Oh was it for my broken mirror?’ and he said, ‘No your passenger is not wearing his seat belt.’”
Borga and her husband, Chris, were shocked to learn Mountain View, as a home-rule city, has its own ordinance treating seat belt violations as a primary violation.
“I think it’s a way to build revenue,” said Chris Borga.
He admitted he forgot to wear his seat belt but believed any town that generates more than 40 percent of its budget from traffic tickets, is more interested in revenue than public safety.
“Some other reason should’ve been the reason we got pulled over in the first place,” said Chris Borga.
Seat belt violations are a common reason to be pulled over in Mountain View. The town only covers 12 square blocks between Denver and Wheat Ridge.
Yet from Jan. 1, 2012, to Oct. 16, 2014, it issued 3,812 seat belt violations. That’s nearly four seat belt tickets every day.
Denver, which has 650,000 people compared to Mountain View’s population of 500, only issued 1,840 seat belt tickets in the same time frame.
Mountain View Police Chief Mark Toth declined an on-camera interview but said on the phone seat belt tickets are issued for public safety not to increase city coffers.
Still, drivers like Steven Greenwalt find that hard to believe.
“They’re just trying to make money. They’re trying to support their little building,” Greenwalt said.
We met up with Greenwalt paying his ticket at Mountain View City Hall.
“I’m sure a lot of the stuff they do isn’t legal but how do you fight it?” asked Greenwalt.
Home-rule cities are allowed to create their own ordinances that override state law, but according to the Colorado Constitution, a city with 2,000 residents is supposed to have “the power to make, amend, add to, or replace” state law.
Mountain View barely has 500 people, which has the American Civil Liberties Union questioning the city’s justification for issuing seat belt violations as a primary violation.
Denise Maes is the ACLU’s Public Policy Director and is investigating Mountain View’s policy of “whether or not they even have the authority to do what they’re doing or if they’re in blatant violation of the state constitution.”
Maes said she is convinced Mountain View’s policy serves only one purpose: “These police officers are not acting in the name of public safety. They’re acting in the name of making sure they have enough revenue in the coffers of Mountain View to get a paycheck.”
We asked Mountain View’s police chief what ordinance his department relies on to treat seat belt violations as a primary offense instead of a secondary offense. He never responded to our question.
The ACLU says it’s continuing to investigate the legality of the practice.
In the meantime, Summer Borga said drivers need to know one thing: “People need to be aware that Colorado State law doesn’t protect them in Mountain View.”