Law enforcement buckling down on those not buckling up

Wearing a seat belt saved more than 60,000 lives since 2008, according to safety officials.

Failure to wear a seatbelt could cost motorists fines of $10 to $200 during the annual Click It or Ticket campaign, which kicks off on May 19 and runs through June 1. Ten thousand law enforcement agencies will participate.

David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the campaign has boosted seat belt usage nationally from less than 60 percent in 1994 to about 87 percent today.

The NHTSA estimates that 12,174 lives were saved in 2012 by the use of seat belts.

“As we’re heading into Memorial Day, kicking off summer driving season — it’s an essential time to see if every motorist young and old is aware that buckling up is going to save lives and if you don’t make that smart choice, law enforcement is going to be buckling down on you to get you to take care of yourself,” he said.

Specifically, the campaign this year is targeting young males 18 to 34 years old, who represent two-thirds of the nation’s unrestrained occupants, he said.

Some states, such as Washington, have a high seat belt usage rate of 96.9 percent. NHTSA hopes to make this number 100 percent, as buckling up is one thing that people can do to keep themselves safe on the roadways, he said.

“We want to see every American buckling up, every seat, every trip, every time,” Friedman said. “There are so many things in our lives that aren’t in our control. Keeping yourself safe by buckling up is 100 percent in your control and that’s the message we want to get out to everyone. It’s a simple way to save your own life and to avoid a ticket.”

The annual two-week campaign has resulted in more than three million ticket citations in the last five years— a ticket every other second, according to the NHTSA.

Overall, the campaign will be cracking down at night, when about 61 percent of passenger vehicle occupants driving unbelted are killed, according to the NHTSA.

A closer look at the numbers

Kansas reported the most seat belt citations, 67 per 10,000 residents in 2012, for a total of 19,125 citations written. In the Sunflower State, 79.5 percent of motorists wore seat belts in 2012.

South Dakota had the lowest seat belt usage rate in the country, at 66.5 percent. Other low seat belt using states include Arkansas, Massachusetts and Montana.

States such as Oregon, California and Texas are among the highest seat belt users. Texas has the highest ticket fine in the country, at $200.

For a closer look at state laws, see below. Mobile users click here.

In general, states with primary seat belt laws have an overall higher seat belt usage rate than those with secondary laws.

In 33 states, primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officers to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt without any other traffic offense taking place. Law enforcement may issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another infraction in those states with secondary seat belt laws. New Hampshire doesn’t have a law, although for those passengers and drivers under 18, tickets may be issued.

Washington had the highest seat belt rate in the country in 2012. Due to the high seat belt usage, Erica Steinman, communications consultant at the Washington traffic safety commission said the state has put an additional emphasis on ticketing people on their cell phones.

Steinman attributes the high rate to the hefty fine of $124, emphasis on the primary law, and that people in Washington have an understanding that seat belts save lives.

In Utah, Trooper Lawrence Hopper said their emphasis this year is on rural areas. The state, which has a secondary law, had a seat belt usage rate of 82.4 percent in 2013, up from 67.4 percent in 2000, when the campaign began in Utah.

“I don’t think it will get in the 90s until the state has a primary law, but that seems to be an uphill battle here in Utah,” he said.

In rural areas, such as Brigham City and Kanab, the seat belt usage rate was 70 percent in 2013, compared to urban areas such as Salt Lake City, which had a seat belt usage rate of 85.6 percent.

Of the 220 people killed in Utah in traffic crashes in 2013, 61 drivers and passengers were not restrained, according to the Utah Highway Safety Office.

On the East Coast, New Jersey, along with Vermont and Virginia, are taking part in a border to border campaign, in which local enforcement will be at border crossings from 6 to 10 p.m.

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