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Archive for Sunday, May 26, 2002

Buckle Up’ focus of new campaign

May 26, 2002

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— Motorists with cracked windshields or broken tail lights could be more likely to see the flashing lights from law enforcement vehicles during the Memorial Day weekend.

It's all part of an effort to get more people to use seat belts. Law enforcement agencies statewide kicked off the "Buckle Up America!" campaign May 20 to raise awareness about seat belt use.

But there is a catch. Kansas is among 32 states with a secondary seat-belt law for adults, which means a motorist can't be stopped simply for failing to wear a seat belt. Rather, a person first must be ticketed for another offense before being cited for not using a seat belt a $10 fine.

"Here in Kansas we have chapters and chapters of law that you can pull people over for," said Lt. John Eichkorn, Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman.

"If we stop someone for a primary violation, we're trying to get officers to look that safety belts are being worn at all times," he added.

More than 200 law enforcement agencies statewide are participating in the Buckle Up America! campaign, which will continue through June 2.

"The initiatives are really designed to get as much awareness out as possible about the need for people to put themselves in seat belts and their children in car seats," Eichkorn said.

Kansas Department of Transportation figures show a 16 percent increase in seat belt usage among accident victims from 1991 to 2001.

In 1991, 65.1 percent of 152,376 people involved in vehicle crashes wore seat belts. Preliminary KDOT figures for 2001 show 80.7 percent of 169,821 victims were buckled up.

AAA estimates more than 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their home during the Memorial Day weekend, a 1 percent increase from last year.

According to Cherie Sage, a spokeswoman for AAA Kansas, the organization recommends motorists give themselves extra time to get to their destination and to make sure everyone in the car is wearing a seat belt.

With the increase in traffic, the highway patrol and other law enforcement agencies plan to increase patrols over the holiday weekend.

"In a holiday weekend, we'll have plenty to do with the increased number of vehicles on the road," Eichkorn said. "We don't want anyone to be injured or killed during this time period, and we'll be strictly enforcing Kansas law."

According to the Kansas Safety Belt Education Office, the use of seat belts increases the odds of surviving an accident without an injury.

"Four out of five people that walk away from an accident without an injury are belted," said Dan Schulte, an evaluator of KDOT traffic safety programs for the safety belt office. "That's important to me."

The highway patrol said greater seat belt use among Kansans would reduce the number of traffic fatalities in the state.

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