May seat belt enforcement soon under way

Published 9:23 am Friday, May 20, 2011

To prevent a repeat of the deadly spring in 2010 in Minnesota, when a flurry of traffic crashes killed 11 people within four days (nine were not belted), local law enforcement agencies will increase Click It or Ticket seat belt patrols May 23 through June 5.

The campaign includes nearly 400 Minnesota agencies working overtime patrols supported by federal dollars to increase seat belt use and stop preventable traffic deaths. Each year in Minnesota, at least 200 unbelted motorists are killed. During 2007-09, more than 600 unbelted motorists were killed and more than 1,200 were seriously injured.

According to Albert Lea Police Lt. J.D. Carlson, a seat belt is a motorist’s best defense in case of a crash. He notes that in rollover crashes, unbelted motorists are usually ejected from the vehicle. In most cases, the vehicle will roll over them. Often, unbelted motorists will crack teeth out on steering wheels or break their nose, and even slam into and injure or kill others in the vehicle.

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“Seat belt enforcement is important to stop preventable deaths or injuries,” Carlson said. “While we would rather not cite anyone for the violation, we know that a ticket is usually what will convince people to start making the smart decision to always belt up.”

Carlson added that motorists need to be the first line of enforcing the law by speaking up and insisting that all passengers are belted.

Officers will enforce the state’s primary seat belt law during the effort. The primary law requires passengers in all seating positions, including the back seat, to be buckled up or seated in the correct child restraint. Officers will stop and ticket unbelted drivers or passengers. A seat belt fine is $25 but can cost more than $100 with court and administrative fees.

The primary law has helped the state achieve a record-high daytime seat belt compliance rate of 92 percent. In a recent pre-enforcement seat belt observational survey in Albert Lea, 78 percent motorists were belted. The Albert Lea Police Department will conduct another survey following the enforcement to measure belt use.

The campaign will also include enforcement of Minnesota’s strengthened child passenger safety law that requires children to be in the correct restraint until they are age 8 or 4 feet 9 inches tall, whichever comes first. This law requires booster seats for children usually starting at age 4 to ensure adult seat belts fit them correctly.

Belt use is especially an issue in Greater Minnesota communities. Annually, nearly 80 percent of unbelted traffic deaths occur on Greater Minnesota roads.

Law dnforcement is stressing belt use belt use, especially among teens and young adults, the groups with the lowest seat belt use rates. Statewide each year, motorists age 15-29 account for 45 percent of all unbelted deaths, yet this group represents only 25 percent of licensed drivers. This same age group accounts for 55 percent of all unbelted serious injuries — 70 percent occur in Greater Minnesota.

The enforcement effort will also include a nighttime seat belt enforcement focus. Each year, more than 60 percent of the nighttime fatalities (9 p.m. to 3 a.m.) are not buckled up.

“We enforce this law to save lives,” Carlson said. “Far too often law enforcement and emergency responder resources are pulled away to address motorists’ injuries that wouldn’t have occurred had seat belts been used.”

The Click It or Ticket seat belt enforcement campaign is a component of the state’s Toward Zero Death initiative. A primary vision of the program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior.