Portage County police promote safety belt use

Leslie Schelat

Buckle up. It’s the law.

What’s holding you back?

Click it or ticket.

These slogans are helping the Ohio State Highway Patrol and police officers across the country remind drivers and passengers of the importance of wearing a seat belt while in a car, and their efforts have paid off.

In 2005, more than eight out of 10 drivers and passengers buckled their seat belts while in the car, according to a study conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. At 82 percent, it is a record high for seat belt use in the United States.

The record-setting year also helped decrease the number of highway fatalities across the country to the lowest number on record.

In Portage County, however, the percentage of people killed in car accidents who were not wearing a seat belt has nearly doubled from 42 percent in 2004 to 80 percent so far this year.

“We’re working on increasing our seat belt enforcement,” said Lt. Michael Marucci of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “I think the biggest problem is the 20 to 26 age group in our county. People in that group are usually the ones who don’t wear their seat belt.”

Seat belt laws vary from state to state. In states such as Ohio, officers must pull over motorists for other offenses before writing a ticket for a seat belt violation.

“It’s a secondary offense,” Marucci said. “We can’t pull people over for that.”

Fines for not wearing seat belts vary. Maximum fines for violations are $30 for the driver and $20 for the passenger.

“Right now, people in the front of the car have to wear seat belts,” Marucci said. “Everyone is required to wear seat belts if the driver is 16 or 17.”

As of April 2003, primary laws are in effect in 18 states and Washington, D.C. In these states, police officers are permitted to pull over vehicles whose occupants are not restrained.

New Hampshire is the single state without adult seat belt laws. It only requires minors to be buckled up.

In states with primary seat belt laws, 80 percent of drivers and passengers buckled up in comparison to 69 percent in states with secondary laws.

The federal government offers monetary incentives for states which strengthen law enforcement in order to get 85 percent of people to buckle up.

One such program, Buckle Up for a Successful Season, is run by the Ohio State Highway Patrol in cooperation with Ohio High School Athletic Association member high schools.

This is important in Ohio because nearly 70 percent of Ohio teenagers killed in car accidents in 2003 were not wearing seat belts.

“I think it works because they’re hearing it from people their own age,” Marucci said.

Contact general assignment reporter Leslie Schelat at [email protected].