By Daniel Silliman
The Morrow Police Department has the best traffic enforcement program in the state, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
That program, and programs like it, have pushed about 90 percent of Georgians into wearing their seatbelts -- the highest of any Southeastern state.
At the Seventh Annual Governor's Challenge Awards, touted as "the Emmy Awards for cops," Governor's Office of Highway Safety Director Bob Dallas announced that 89 percent of driving Georgians were wearing their seatbelts in a survey, making 2007 the second year in a row the state's ratings came in at around 90 percent.
That's a significant increase sinces the late 90s and early 2000s, when the survey showed about 75 percent of drivers were wearing their seatbelts, according to GOHS statistics.
"There is no question," Dallas told the gathered officers, "your concentrated patrols and high-profile road-checks are having a measurable effect on safety-belt use."
During the same meeting, Dallas announced that the Morrow department had the highest overall evaluation -- scoring 160 out of a possible 195 -- in the chiefs association's judgment, earning the "Governor's Cup."
Cam Reed, a Morrow Police captain, said the department was surprised and pleased to hear it was the best.
"We have put a lot into our highway-safety efforts here," the captain said. "We knew we had a pretty good program, but we were surprised to find out we had one of the best."
The Morrow officers were competing with 90 other departments, across the state, including the Georgia Highway Patrol.
Reed attributed the department's ranking to its public information and educational efforts. "Without education, enforcement doesn't mean much," he said. "You can get out there and write 100 tickets, but if you're not explaining to people why that's important, why that's the law, the message is kind of missed."
The department does push its officers to make traffic stops, Reed said, though the emphasis is placed on making the stops more than the writing of tickets. The goal, he said, is reducing accidents and saving lives.
"You're saving the lives of fellow Georgians each time you send an impaired drive to jail and each time you write a speeding ticket, and especially when you cite drivers for unbuckled safety belts," he said.
Reed said some officers enjoy working on traffic enforcement and others don't, but all of them see the need for the laws when they show up at the scene of a fatal accident.
"Out of all the fatalities that I've ever worked, at least 95 percent of them weren't wearing a seatbelt, and at least in half those cases it would've made a difference," Reed said. "I've worked crashes with fires and crashes in lakes. Nobody's ever died because they've had their seatbelt on, and in most cases, they've died because they didn't have their seatbelt on."