Seat belt campaign nabs 165 violators

Published 10:00 am Friday, June 11, 2010

Albert Lea Police Department officers and Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office deputies cited more than 160 people for seat belt violations during a two-week Click It or Ticket enforcement that ended Sunday.

The effort, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, included more than 400 law enforcement agencies statewide. Its aim was to increase seat belt and child restraint use among drivers and passengers.

“Enforcing seat belt use is not just the job of law enforcement,” said Albert Lea Lt. J.D. Carlson. “It’s up to every motorist to speak up and tell your passengers to buckle. Unbelted motorists are not just endangering themselves. In a crash an unbelted person can slam into and injure others in the vehicle.”

Email newsletter signup

The campaign was the first major enforcement of the year for the primary seat belt law, which requires all passengers, including those in the back seat, to be buckled up or seated in the correct child restraint.

Under the law, officers and deputies can stop and ticket motorists solely for seat belt violations, including unbelted passengers.

The campaign also included enforcement of Minnesota’s child passenger safety law, which requires children to be in the correct restraint until they are 8 years old and 4 feet 9 inches tall.

The enforcement went from May 24 through June 6, during which grant money supplemented an additional 100 hours of overtime locally.

According to an Albert Lea Police Department news release, officers and deputies cited 165 people for seat belt citations throughout Freeborn County, and nine people were given child restraint citations.

Lt. Jeff Strom said he was not surprised by the number of citations issued.

“You can drive around any time of the day and see numerous people without their seat belts on,” Strom said.

Special nighttime seat belt patrols — aimed at combating a disproportionate number of unbelted traffic deaths at night — resulted in 27 citations, the release stated.

One local 19-year-old mother was also cited for the third time in six months for failing to secure her child properly. During this stop, her child did not have a child seat available and was seen standing in the back seat by an officer while the automobile was in motion.

As part of the campaign, the Albert Lea Police Department conducted a seat belt observational survey prior to the enforcement and reported 87 percent of motorists were belted. In a post-enforcement survey, belt use was reported at 86 percent.

Strom said when surveys are conducted officers generally go to three to four locations and tabulate whether drivers — and passengers if possible — are belted as they go by. They tabulate until they reach 100. Results from each location are averaged to reach the percent.

Officers repeat the same steps, at the same locations, for the post-enforcement survey.

Strom said he was surprised the survey percentage went down at the end of the campaign, but it all depends on which segment of the population was driving by at that time. Different locations also can yield different results.

Overall, however, it seems like the young men and teenagers aren’t wearing their seat belts, he said.

According to the release, unbelted motorists account for more than half of all vehicle occupants killed each year in Minnesota. Non-belt use is especially an issue in Greater Minnesota communities, where nearly 80 percent of all unbelted traffic deaths in the state occur.

Belt use is especially poor among teens and young adults, the release continued. Statewide each year, motorists age 15 to 29 account for 45 percent of all unbelted deaths, though they represent only 25 percent of licensed drivers.

The same group also accounts for 55 percent of all unbelted serious injuries.

Of the motorists killed in Freeborn County from 2006-08, about half were not belted.

The Click It or Ticket enforcement effort is a component of the state’s Toward Zero Deaths initiative. Toward Zero Deaths is a multi-agency approach to address traffic issues regionally through enforcement, education, engineering and emergency trauma care.