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Increased seat belt enforcement on the docket for October

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office and Alexandria Police Department will conduct intense Click It or Ticket seat belt patrols to increase seat belt use and stop preventable traffic deaths in October.

The enforcement campaign includes around 400 Minnesota agencies and is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

The increased enforcement is part of the Toward Zero Death (TZD) initiative. TZD is the state's core traffic safety program that uses a multidisciplinary approach to address traffic issues regionally through enforcement, education, engineering and emergency trauma care.

The goal of the TZD is 400 or fewer road deaths by 2010. During the last three years (2007-2009) in Minnesota, more than 1,000 motorists were killed in crashes and only 43 percent were buckled up.

According to Douglas County Deputy Sheriff Brandon Chaffins, a seat belt is a motorist's best defense in case of a crash. Deputy Chaffins noted that in rollover crashes, unbelted motorists are usually ejected from the vehicle. In most cases, the vehicle will roll over them.

In less severe crashes, unbelted motorists will crack teeth out on steering wheels or break their nose, and even slam into and injure others in the vehicle.

"The focus of this campaign is to prevent these traffic tragedies that are still far too common," Chaffins said. "This campaign is not about writing tickets. We are calling on motorists to be the first line of enforcing the law by speaking up and insisting that all passengers are belted."

The sheriff's office and police department will enforce the state's primary seat belt law during the effort, which allows law enforcement to stop motorists directly for belt violations. The primary law requires passengers in all seating positions, including the back seat, to be buckled up or seated in the correct child restraint. 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 90 percent. In a seat belt observational survey conducted in Douglas County in May of 2010, 92 percent of motorists were belted. The sheriff's office and police department will conduct another survey in May of 2011.

Statistics have shown that teens and young adults have 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.

The enforcement effort will also include a nighttime seat belt enforcement focus. DPS reports during 2007-2009, around 70 percent of motorists killed during nighttime hours (9 p.m. to 3 a.m.) were not buckled up.

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 and 4 feet 9 inches tall.

This law requires booster seats for kids, usually starting at age 4, to ensure adult seat belts fit them correctly.

If you have any questions related to the child passenger laws, contact the sheriff's office at (320) 762-8151 and ask for Deputy Sheriff Bob Peper or contact the police department at (320) 763-6631 and ask for Officer Jim Gripne. Both are trained in this area and can answer your questions. They are able to inspect your car seats and aid you in the proper installation of them as well.