Seatbelt program takes effect

By Ed Brock

There was no shortage of excuses at the "Click It or Ticket" road check Clayton County police officers set up on Walt Stephens Road Tuesday afternoon.

One man said he was bringing his car to the shop to get it fixed after an accident and the seatbelt had locked up. Another said he'd left his license at home.

One young man who had been driving alone on a learner's permit seemed very agitated as the officers prepared to tow away the car he had borrowed from a friend.

The latest round of the statewide seat belt law enforcement program began Monday and lasts until June 1. Clayton County police will be concentrating on Salisbury Trail and Ambassador Drive, Ginger Court and Regency Place, Bridge Avenue and Lake Drive (in cooperation with Forest Park police) and Albert Drive and Linden Way (with the Clayton County Sheriff's Office).

"Residents who live and drive on those roads really need to pay attention to their seatbelt usage," said Lt. Tom Israel, head of the county's traffic enforcement unit. "Those are our hotspots for this year's campaign."

On Friday night the county department will work with the Atlanta Police Department on a related program, Operation Zero Tolerance, that will focus on catching drunk drivers on Old Dixie Road near the county line around 11 p.m.

"We're just trying to make a sustained effort," said Clayton County Police Sgt. Brian Danekes. "We're going to try to do at least one a week."

Other departments in the county will be participating in the program as well, and that program goes beyond just pulling people over. An information campaign will accompany the road checks, one that focuses particularly on teen-age drivers through ads on television and radio, Internet chat rooms and even their high school public address systems, according to Riverdale Police Officer Debra Johnson.

"The only proven way to get significant increases in belt use among young people and ultimately save lives is through high visibility enforcement, including targeted and intense advertising to alert people to the enforcement," Johnson said in a statement. "Teens and young adults are killed at far higher rates in crashes because they are caught in a lethal intersection of inexperience, risk taking and low safety belt use."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,341 young drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 died and thousands more were injured nationwide in 2001. Also fatality rates for teens are twice that of older drivers and two out of five teen deaths are caused by car accidents.

Enforcement mobilizations like Click It or Ticket It save lives, Johnson said.

"Enforcement gets people to buckle up. Seat belt use in states that conduct high visibility enforcement is 10 to 15 percent higher than in states that simply conduct public education," Johnson said. "If every state conducted high visibility enforcement, we would save 5,000 to 7,000 lives each year."

Officers will be looking for properly installed child safety seats as well. Israel also said drivers should continue to carry an insurance card even though a new state computer system allows officers to check on whether a driver is insured by license plate number. The cards are needed in the event of an accident.

Also, not be too quick to take off your seatbelt while approaching a road check in order to take out your wallet. Make sure the officer sees you with the belt on, first.