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Police plan seat belt effort

October 12, 2011
Jenn Brookens - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Make sure to "click it" or risk the ticket.

Beginning Friday, police will be enforcing the state's seat belt law with extra help from the Minnesota State Patrol and other officers in the area.

While Martin County had a high seat belt use compliance rate during the last check held in the spring, the south-central region falls below state average - 73 percent versus 90 percent compliance statewide.

"We need to kick that into gear," said Fairmont police officer Craig Fowler, who organizes the local Safe and Sober campaigns. "Since June 9, 2009, we have had a primary seat belt law. At this point, there's not much excuse for people not to wear their seat belts ... There are enough built-in exemptions to cover those people who actually cannot wear a seat belt. For those who are too big, there are extensions. For those who are too small, there are adaptors. For those who complain it rubs against them and it's uncomfortable, there are pads. For the general motoring public, there's no excuse."

Last year, Minnesota saw a record-high 92 percent compliance rate. In 1986, the compliance rate was only 20 percent.

"We've come a long way in 25 years," Fowler said.

The compliance check will run from Oct. 14-27. During this time, Fowler said he hopes people will not only remember to buckle up, but to also speak up.

"For parents and people driving, they need to make sure everyone is buckling up," he said. "Parents should make it a rule that the car doesn't go until everyone is buckled up. If they have a teen that takes the car, they need to stress that everyone in the vehicle buckles up."

The driver or a parent with a child age 15 and younger not properly belted or in a car seat will be fined for the violation, but those 16 and older will be cited themselves.

"I think it's also important to say that we will ticket those people who are not wearing their belts correctly," Fowler said. "Vehicles today are designed to be safe with the passengers belted. The belts are designed to be worn properly. The lap belt needs to go across the lap, the shoulder belt over the shoulder. If you're tucking the shoulder belt behind you, you might as well not wear it at all. It can even be more dangerous to be wearing the belt improperly."

From an economic point of view, not wearing seat belts costs about $366 million in health care expenses and lost labor every year. About 80 percent of fatal or serious injury crashes involve people not wearing seat belts.

"If we were out to just say 'gotcha,' then why do we announce these enforcements ahead of time in the paper?" Fowler asked. "If you don't agree with the seat belt law, petition your legislators. But the seat belt law is a primary law, and as long as it's on the book, we will enforce it."



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