Opinion

Keep that seat belt buckled

While law enforcement is always on the lookout for unbuckled drivers and passengers, local police will be especially vigilant in the coming weeks in catching those not wearing their seat belts.

Not only will they be paying special attention during the day, but emphasis is being placed on nighttime seat belt patrols beginning May 19 through June 1.

Those who aren’t buckling up may get a wake-up call with a $124 ticket — the fine for failing to use a seat belt or child restraint. Hopefully, having to pay the price for not buckling up will be enough to remind people the importance of wearing their seat belts.

The extra patrols are funded by a grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) in an effort to reduce fatalities on Washington roads.

During 2007, both daytime and nighttime vehicle occupant fatalities were lower compared to the previous 10 years, according to WTSC. Preliminary numbers show that nighttime vehicle occupant deaths were 13 percent lower during 2007 (216 deaths versus the 247 average for the previous 10 years) and daytime vehicle occupant deaths were down 21 percent (194 deaths during 2007 versus the 245 average for the previous 10 years).

“We have a number of projects underway that are designed to reduce the number of traffic deaths on our roadways. We are evaluating their effectiveness and early results indicate that the nighttime seat belt patrols are producing positive outcomes,” said Steve Lind, Traffic Safety Commission acting director.

Both the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and Washington State Patrol are participating in the emphasis patrols. Whether you’re driving on the freeway or down one of Kitsap County’s roads, law enforcement will be keeping a watchful eye for good reason.

Seat belts reduce the risk of serious injury by 69 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They reduce the risk of death by 70 percent, according to the Harborview Injury Research and Prevention Center.

Besides the fact that seat belts save lives, there is another important reason for conducting the emphasis patrols at nighttime.

“The Click It or Ticket seat belt patrols were directed to take place after 7 p.m. because the death rate is four times higher at night than it is during the day,” Lind said.

Washington’s seat belt law was passed in 1986. At that time, only 36 percent of motorists buckled up, according to WTSC. Washington’s primary seat belt law (which gives law enforcement the authority to pull over unbuckled motorists) became effective in June 2002, at which time seat belt use in the state hovered at 83 percent. The Click It or Ticket campaign was adopted in 2002 and since its inception seat belt use has risen to 96.4 percent, making Washington’s seat belt use one of the highest in the nation.

WTSC’s patrols coincide with All-American Buckle-Up Week, which is observed May 19-26.

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