Campaign encourages motorists to buckle up

by Sara Schweid

Travelers over the holiday weekend were faced with an increased number of police officers ready to ticket them for not wearing seat belts.

Four hundred Minnesota law enforcement agencies are taking part in a national effort to increase seat belt use. The Click It or Ticket program, funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, runs from May 22 through June 4.

Katherine Burke Moore, deputy director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, said the program is aimed at getting everyone to wear seat belts.

“This is a nationwide buckle-up crackdown, ensuring that people across the country, in any state and on any road, are wearing seat belts,” she said.

The campaign, now in its fifth year, has been successful in the past because seat belt usage rates have been increasing, Burke Moore said.

Last May, the effort generated 10,000 seat belt citations. After the program, the statewide usage rate increased from 82 percent to 84 percent, according to the Office of Traffic Safety.

The program overlaps with Memorial Day, the beginning of the summer driving season.

AAA estimated 37.6 million people would travel over the holiday weekend.

Increased road travel often means increased traffic fatalities, said Mark Peterson, public information officer for the Minnesota State Patrol, which participated in the program.

During Memorial Day last year, nine people died within 72 hours and about 400 people were seriously injured in crashes, many of whom were unbelted, Peterson said.

According to the Office of Traffic Safety, of the 462 vehicle occupants killed in Minnesota in 2004, 240 were unbelted.

Nationally, 31,693 vehicle occupants were killed in accidents in 2004, and 55 percent were not wearing seat belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The objective of the Click It or Ticket campaign is to increase awareness, Burke Moore said.

“The goal is to actually bring home the message of how important it is to wear your seat belt,” Burke Moore said.

Minnesota has a secondary seat belt law, which means a driver can’t be stopped solely for not wearing a seat belt. If drivers are stopped for another violation and are unbelted, they can be given an additional ticket, Peterson said.

Tickets for seat belt violations are $25, but with additional court and administration fees can cost as much as $115, Burke Moore said.

Studies show teenagers are the age group least likely to buckle up. According to the Office of Traffic Safety, teenagers are more likely to die in a car crash than the next three leading causes (suicide, homicide and nontraffic accidents) combined.

Steve Johnson, deputy chief of University Police, said few tickets need to be given for seat belt violations on campus.

“I think a lot of people are wearing their seat belts,” Johnson said.

English junior Mike Nemer said he always wears his seat belt – a habit instilled in him by his parents.

Nemer said ticketing does make future seat belt use more likely, but real-life tragedies are a more effective lesson.

“I think that the stories you hear about people dying from not having their seat belts on does more than police presence or tickets,” he said.

University Police did not have extra patrol units on duty in connection with the campaign, but officers have participated in the program by attending traffic enforcement meetings and discussing ways to improve safety.

“The real goal here is to make people safer,” Johnson said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Burke Moore said she hopes the program will continue to lead to increased belt use and the realization that seat belts save lives.

“Our overall goal is to see fewer deaths on the road,” she said.