Decrease in use spurs seatbelt enforcement initiative

This year, 65 percent of highway fatalities not wearing required seatbelts

Motorists hoping to avoid a ticket while driving though Ocean View had better buckle up while they’re at it. The town and its police department are part of a statewide initiative to enforce state seatbelt law that comes as the number of people in Delaware using seatbelts declined for the first time in more than 10 years.

The Delaware Office of Highway Safety announced recently that results from observational seatbelt surveys conducted this summer have seatbelt use at 88 percent – a 3 percent decrease from last year’s 91 percent usage figure.

“On one hand, we were shocked to see it go down after such a long stretch,” said Andrea Summers, community relations officer for the Delaware Office of Highway Safety. “On the other hand, we weren’t that surprised when we looked at the fatal statistics.”

Since the beginning of January 2009, of the 49 drivers and passengers killed in Delaware motor-vehicle crashes, 32 (or 65 percent) of them were not wearing seatbelts. In comparison, at the same time in 2008, 22 (or 48 percent) of the then-46 drivers and passengers killed were not wearing seatbelts.

“It’s the law,” continued Summers. “And everybody needs to be aware of the law. It’s kind of like the speed limit. People know what the speed limit is, but they almost think it’s optional, and they’ll say, ‘But I was only going 10 [mph] over!’”

She also said that people take a different view of the issue of seatbelts when it comes to their children, but many simply still don’t buckle up themselves.

“It’s something so simple, and they are not doing it. The children are buckled up. It’s not the children who are getting killed. It’s the adult brothers and sisters, the spouses and significant others, the friends.”

The statewide enforcement and awareness mobilization, of which Ocean View Police Department is a participant, began Saturday, Aug.1. Through November, Bridgeville, Harrington, Laurel, Milford, Millsboro, Ocean View and Seaford police will conduct traffic safety patrols, looking for unbuckled drivers and passengers.

Because New Castle and Sussex counties saw their seatbelt-usage numbers decline, the departments participating in the effort are from those two counties. In Kent County, seatbelt use actually increased by 1 percent.

Specifically, the towns involved in the initiative are high-crash locations, whether the associated factors are speeding, DUI or something else. Some police departments that get other year-round grants from the OHS, or that don’t have the manpower to keep the statistics necessary for the survey, might not have been eligible for this specific initiative, but they are still conducting enforcement of other occupant-protection laws as part of their year-long grants with the OHS.

“This is not another ‘Click It or Ticket’ campaign,” emphasized Summers. “‘Click It or Ticket’ is a specific month-long initiative that is conducted nationwide in May. It’s designed to be a short-term effort. This special mobilization involves sustained seatbelt enforcement over a longer period of time and will take us into the holiday season.”

Delaware law requires drivers and all passengers, including those in the back seat, to wear a seatbelt. The law includes primary enforcement: an officer can pull over a driver if he sees any person in the vehicle not wearing a seatbelt, even if there is no other reason for the officer to stop the car.

State law also requires children to be properly restrained while in a motor vehicle. All children must be properly restrained in a federally approved child safety seat appropriate for the child’s age, weight and height, until they reach the age of 8 or exceed 65 pounds in weight, at which time they can use the standard seatbelt alone. Children weighing 40 to 65 pounds can use a booster seat with a vehicle seatbelt.

Additionally, all children younger than 12 or less than 65 inches tall are required to sit in the back seat if there are active airbags in the front passenger seating position.

Officers will be issuing citations for seatbelt violations as part of a zero-tolerance policy. The ticket, which goes to the driver no matter who in the vehicle is unbuckled, is a $25 fine, plus court administrative fees, which can total more than $70. . The fine for violating the child-restraint law is also $25, plus court costs.

Wearing a seatbelt can improve chances of surviving a crash, or escaping serious injury by up to 50 percent.

In 2008, according to OHS, as many as 20 lives could have been saved had the victims in Delaware crashes worn a seatbelt.

“Something so simple could’ve made a huge difference,” continued Summers. “We just want everyone to make it home to their families.”

For weekly updates on OHS’s seatbelt mobilization results, visit the newsroom on the OHS Web site at www.ohs.delaware.gov. OHS updates and activities are also on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DEHighwaySafe.