For the two weeks around Memorial Day, there’s more reason than normal to buckle up: Police around the country are stepping up enforcement of seat belt laws and plan on giving out double the usual number of tickets.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is promoting the two-week period from May 20 to June 2 as the National Seat Belt Enforcement Mobilization campaign. The annual “Click It or Ticket” event centers on Memorial Day weekend, and police around the country will be “aggressively” dishing out citations to anyone violating seat belt and child restraint laws.
While local and state police departments are stepping up enforcement of the laws 24/7 for all drivers and passengers, there are more likely to be violations by certain groups, and at certain times of day. According to NHTSA data, men ages 18 to 34 are less likely than others to wear seat belts, and nighttime in general is when more drivers and passengers tend to “forget” or just not bother with the fastening of seat belts.
Among other places, a comprehensive enforcement effort is planned for Washington state, reports the Seattle Times. From May 20 to June 2, extra patrols from 20 local police departments, as well as county and state police, will be deployed to specifically hand out tickets to drivers on cellphones and anyone in a car not wearing a seat belt.
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Law authorities in New Jersey stated that they are even planning to hand out tickets for adults in the back seat not wearing seat belts. Only 36% of adults do so, compared to 88% of adults in New Jersey in a car’s front row.
According to data gathered by Businessweek, during the annual push on seat belt enforcement, states are known to double the number of traffic tickets handed out compared to normal periods. The program is a surefire “moneymaker” for states such as Nebraska:
The state, according to Highway Safety Administrator Fred E. Zwonechek, expects to double the number of total traffic citations officers typically issue during the two-week period, from 12,000 to 24,000 (That includes seat belt fines, speeding, and DUI). Zwonechek says the state will generate $750,000 from the campaign, compared to $400,000 normally.
By aggressively enforcing the laws, authorities say they are making roads safer. Naturally, some drivers view such campaigns mainly as quick cash grabs and don’t exactly appreciate the effort to ensure their safety. They’d prefer it if the rules were enforced consistently and reasonably, rather than “aggressively.”
On the normally sleepy island of Ocracoke, in North Carolina‘s Outer Banks, for instance, many locals were angered when a pair of state troopers showed up on a recent weekend and handed out 59 tickets—including 32 citations for seat belt violations and five for DUI. Apparently, some of the drivers took exception to the troopers’ handiwork: The morning after the ticket frenzy, one trooper’s car was splattered with green paint, and a concrete block was thrown through the back window of the other officer’s vehicle.
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The state troopers’ actions, which included road blocks and random license checks, had “the whole island talking” even before the vandalism, according to the local Ocracoke Current:
It was close to impossible to leave your home, hotel or rental cottage without seeing a blue light. The phrase “police state” and the word “harassment” were both used to describe the presence of troopers doing their jobs in the way they were trained to do them.
“I didn’t feel safer. I felt attacked. I was afraid to leave my house,” said resident Heather Johnson, despite the fact that her car isn’t currently operational and she bikes or walks everywhere.
Meanwhile, newly released data indicates that teenagers are more likely to be killed or injured due to texting behind the wheel than drunk driving. The nation’s four largest wireless providers have just united to launch a multi-million dollar “It Can Wait” campaign warning about the dangers of texting while driving.
USA Today reported, however, that while 39 states and the District of Columbia ban texting behind the wheel, the likelihood of getting ticketed for violating such a law seem low. North Dakota Highway Patrol officers have handed out a grand total of 117 citations for texting while driving since it was outlawed in August 2011.
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Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA, told USA Today that there are fewer-than-expected citations given out for texting because highway officers are still figuring out the best way to detect and enforce the rules. “It takes time for police to develop and disseminate effective enforcement practices,” he said. For now at least, it’s much easier for police officers to hand out tickets for speeding or failure to wear seat belts.