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Even though he wasn't in New Hampshire, President Bush took a little seat belt-free spin last week. He didn't get a fine, but he did turn some heads in Texas. NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea has this snapshot.
DON GONYEA: It started with a photograph. There was the president at the wheel of his white Chevy truck. Riding shotgun in the picture is the secretary general of the NATO Alliance, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. At first glance, it's just another picture of the president showing off his Crawford, Texas, ranch to a VIP guest. Mr. Bush is smiling and waving to photographers. But the image also clearly shows that the president of the United States is not wearing his seat belt. It's unbuckled, hanging loosely behind him.
All of this prompted some questions for White House spokesman Tony Snow. The following exchange took place at an off-camera briefing. Was there a reason why President Bush doesn't wear a seat belt when he drives his truck? One reporter asked. Snow's response, I didn't ask. Does he wear a seat belt in the presidential limo? Snow said he doesn't know.
Now, most of the country knows that New Jersey's John Corzine was not wearing his seat belt when the SUV he was riding in flipped over on the freeway last month. Corzine was nearly killed and has spent weeks in intensive care. He has since apologized publicly for the example that set.
Now, when someone drives around on their own property, the law does not require them to buckle up as it would on a public highway, but that's not exactly the best response from a White House press secretary. So Tony Snow offered this when the issue came up again during an on-camera briefing a few hours later.
Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): Well, it's always important to wear seat belts, especially when driving slowly on the ranch. But I think it's in point of fact something that, you know, we encourage everybody to wear their seat belts.
GONYEA: As for presidential motorcades, which speed down highways and on city streets, Snow said he doesn't know if Mr. Bush is belted in then.
Mr. SNOW: The Secret Service, I guarantee you, takes - looks after the president, is absolutely determined to interest safety in every way possible.
GONYEA: That photo of the president sans seat belt was snapped on Sunday, the day before National Seat belt Day, and at the start of a stepped-up period of enforcement, time to promote good summertime driving habits beginning with the Memorial Day weekend. The president's home state of Texas is among those participating.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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