Archive for Sunday, June 27, 2004

Troopers turn up heat on seat belt use

Warnings giving way to tickets

June 27, 2004


The days of receiving a warning for unfastened seat belts are coming to an end for drivers in Kansas.

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers are more likely now than ever to issue citations if they catch motorists or their passengers riding without seat belts fastened, or children improperly restrained.

"That's kind of the message the agency is sending," said Lt. John Eichkorn, spokesman for the Highway Patrol. "Like DUIs, we would like to see lack of seat belt usage socially unacceptable and something our law enforcement officers believe it's very important to write tickets for."

The reason for the crackdown? Kansans are among the least likely to use their seat belts, studies have shown. In fact, the state ranks 46th in seat belt use. Only Arizona, Mississippi, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have lower compliance rates, according to the Kansas Bureau of Traffic Safety.

There is a combination of reasons why Kansas ranks so low, said Pete Bodyk, the bureau's director. The need for seat belts hasn't been promoted enough, and law enforcement agencies are learning they need to be stricter about enforcing the law, he said.

"A lot of law enforcement has worked hard on this, and it's trying to get away from warnings," Bodyk said. "If people know they are only going to get a warning, then they still don't have that incentive (to use seat belts)."

The new "get-tough" attitude began with a public information and enforcement campaign that began in May and ended June 6. The campaign's slogan, "Click It or Ticket," included radio and television advertisements that featured law enforcement officers talking about the dangers and consequences of riding without seat belts.

The Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies conducted special patrols and set up check lanes as part of the campaign. Troopers, for their part, issued 947 speeding tickets and 369 tickets for seat belt violations. Another 128 tickets were written because children weren't properly restrained. Other agencies' efforts haven't been compiled.

"We got a lot of positive comment from the public" about the campaign, Eichkorn said. "It seemed to stir up a lot of conversation about the topic, which is something we really like to see. The more people talking about the subject, the better apt we are to get people to buckle up."

Here's a look at seat belt use in Kansas accidents in 2002:¢ 182,707 occupants of vehicles were involved in accidents.¢ 150,462 occupants -- or 82.4 percent -- were wearing seat belts.¢ 442 people died from accident injuries.¢ 121 occupants wearing seat belts died, 27.4 percent of those who died in accidents.¢ 25,285 people in those accidents were injured; of that, 18,068 people wore seat belts, or 71.5 percent of those injured.

The real test will come later in July when surveys are taken throughout the state to again determine seat belt compliance.

According to 2003 studies of Kansas counties, the highest rate of compliance was found in Johnson (80 percent), Leavenworth (72 percent) and Lyon (69 percent) counties. Douglas County's rate (58 percent) put it in the middle of the pack. The lowest rating went to Neosho County (35 percent).

In Kansas, law enforcement officers can issue citations for unbuckled seat belts only if they issue a citation for another, primary traffic violation. A bill that would change that law was introduced in the Kansas Legislature last winter but never received a hearing, Bodyk said. The Highway Patrol supports such a law, Eichkorn said.

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