Sunday, May 17, 2009
Police crack down on seat-belt violators
The next two weeks, cops will target unbuckled drivers and passengers By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • May 17, 2009 Fewer people died on Tennessee's roads last year than in any year since 1960. One reason, safety officials say, is that more people are buckling up. Of the 1,033 people killed in traffic accidents in 2008, more than half weren't wearing seat belts, said Kendell Poole, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Office. State and local law enforcement officers across Tennessee will spend the next two weeks aggressively checking and looking for drivers and passengers who aren't strapped in. The enforcement effort, part of a nationwide Click It or Ticket demonstration, begins Monday and runs through the last day of the month. While safety advocates applaud the campaign, some drivers believe they should have the choice to buckle up or not. "I think this is an incident of the nanny state telling us what to do and how we should live," said Michael Neth, who lives in Murfreesboro. "There are other things that are clearly problems. Many people don't care to use their turn signals. Police rarely stop them." Tennessee is one of 22 states that allows officers to stop and ticket a person solely for not wearing a seat belt. The 2004 law says every person in the car, regardless of age, must be buckled in. Violators are fined $10 for the first offense and $20 for each one thereafter. The Click It or Ticket program includes education and enforcement components, with checkpoints and advertising campaigns planned throughout the state, said Laura McPherson, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Safety. "The Tennessee Highway Patrol will hold more than 80 sobriety and driver's license checkpoints and conduct saturation patrols across the state," McPherson said. Proper shoulder belt use vital Poole, of the Governor's Highway Safety Office, and other advocates say the number of people in Tennessee who wear a seat belt has gone up since the 2004 law was enacted. "It's not something we're doing to invade their privacy or tell them what to do," Poole said. "It's simply a matter of making good decisions and saving your life and those of your passengers." According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, the share of Tennessee drivers wearing seat belts increased from about 68 percent in 2004 to about 81 percent in 2008. The nationwide Click It or Ticket campaign has a goal to boost the number to 90 percent. "If we could get to 90 percent, think of how many lives we could save," Poole said. Sarah Haverstick, a safety coordinator at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, said she reminds people that how they wear a seat belt is just as important as wearing one. People, especially children, will sometimes stick the shoulder belt behind their backs. "The shoulder belt is what is helping keep you in and safe," said Haverstick, a lead organizer for the hospital's Safe Kids Coalition. She also said many child restraint systems are not properly installed or children are not in age-appropriate restraints, increasing the chance they will be hurt. Neth, the Murfreesboro resident, said he had two friends who were involved in an accident and were wearing seat belts. One friend died and the other was seriously injured. "Police told my friend if he wasn't wearing his seat belt, he wouldn't have been as severely injured," said Neth, who wears his seat belt, though not all the time. "It should be a matter of individual choice."
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