Better buckle up — police plan seat belt safety crackdown

2/21/2014

By KELTON BROOKS

By KELTON BROOKS

kbrooks@gctelegram.com

Area law enforcement agencies will crack down on seat belt use at high schools statewide as part of an annual seat belt enforcement campaign.

Law enforcement officials will be showing high visibility around schools from Monday through March 7 to encourage seat belt use, and to look for student drivers and adults who are not wearing them, according to Laura Moore, state coordinator for the SAFE statewide program — Seat Belts are for Everyone.

Moore said a zero tolerance policy will be enforced.

"There won't be any warning, it will be a citation," she said.

If a student driver is between the age of 13 and 17, a $60 ticket will be issued. "This (the campaign) has proven to be successful, as teen seat belt usage rate has increased 19 percent," Moore said.

This is the sixth year of the SAFE initiative, which is administered by students at the schools they attend. The program is geared more towards high school students because they are driving. Currently, 54 counties totaling 124 schools participate in the SAFE program statewide. Kenneth Henderson Middle School is an active member, as well as two schools in Kearny County.

The seat belt campaign is not limited only to schools actively participating in the SAFE initiative, however, Moore said.

The Garden City Police Department is among law enforcement agencies that will have an increased presence before and after school at Garden City High School to not only enforce, but also encourage young drivers to wear their seat belt.

"It's important that young drivers learn safety in the beginning and get into the life-saving habit of buckling up," Garden City Police Chief James Hawkins said.

Lt. Josh Kellerman, state public information officer with the Kansas Highway Patrol, has participated in the program and hopes it continues to bring awareness.

"Getting the younger crowd to buckle up is what we need," Kellerman said. Kellerman believes the campaign is "very important" for the youth who are just learning how to drive, learning the rules of the road, and getting their feet wet behind the wheel.

"Seat belt safety is proven to save lives. If you get involved in an accident, wearing a seat belt can be the difference between a severe injury or death. A seat belt could possibly prevent either of the two from happening," Kellerman said.

According to the 2012 Kansas Department of Transportation statistics, 43 Kansas teenagers died in vehicle crashes in which 74 percent were not properly restrained. In 2013, seat belt use between the ages of 15 and 17 was 81 percent. The rate for the same age group was 61 percent in 2008-09.

The KHP and the Department of Motor Vehicles seat belt restraint laws state that children must ride in a rear-facing child safety seat until they are at least 1 year old and 20 pounds. Children between the ages of 1 and 3 must ride in a forward-facing child safety seat. Children between 4 and 7 must ride in a booster seat unless they weigh more than 80 pounds, are taller than 4-feet-9 inches, or are traveling in a vehicle where only a lap belt is available. Children between 8 and 13 years of age must be wearing a seat belt whenever the vehicle is in motion. Children 8 through 13 years of age must be protected by a seat belt. Ocupants of a passenger car between the ages of 14 and 18 can be cited for not wearing a seat belt without being cited for another violation.

"We had three fatalities in the first month of this year," said sheriff Kevin Bascue of the Finney County Sheriff's Office.

Finney County had five fatal vehicle crashes in 2013, but, in the first two weeks of 2014, three died in car crashes after being thrown from their vehicles. None of them were wearing seat belts.

Bascue said deputies within the office believe if those individuals had been wearing seat belts, they would all be here today.

"Children, young adults and all adults should wear a seat belt," he said. "It's time for enforcements to take the next step to encourage everyone to buckle up. Seat belts have the potential save lives."

Bascue said his office has no definite plans during the enforcement period. However, he is interested in the campaign and plans to contact law enforcement and school officials about participating.

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