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Seat belt use urged in campaign

Careful how you’re trekking, because the man is wise.

The annual national Click It or Ticket campaign begins statewide onMay 24, and troopers, deputies and police of all sorts will beeagle-eyeing motorists’ left shoulders, looking to make sure safetyrestraints are firmly in place and pouncing on non-wearers. Thecampaign will run from that date through Memorial Day weekend untilJune 6, with law enforcement agencies across Mississippi runningextra patrols and blocking roads, leaving no stretch of highwaysafe for habitual seat belt shunners.

“Put your seat belt on and don’t drink and drive,” said Sgt. RustyBoyd, public relations officer with the Brookhaven-headquarteredTroop M of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Any motorist who wishes to test the seat belt resolve of lawenforcement officials during Click It or Ticket should be preparedto make checks payable to their local justice court. In LincolnCounty, motorists can be fined up to $25 for each person in thevehicle not wearing a seat belt, with booster seat and childrestraint fines also set at $25.

Thus, a seat belt-less driver who cruises with two seat belt-lessfriends and an improperly restrained child will have to fork over$100. And since the Legislature made seat belt violations a primaryoffense in 2006, law enforcement officers don’t need any otherexcuse to flip on the blue lights and come after those ridingwithout their safety restraints.

“We can stop you just for that,” Boyd said.

According to data published by the Mississippi Department of PublicSafety, awareness and enforcement campaigns like Click It or Tickethave been getting the job done in Mississippi. About 75 percent ofstate residents have gotten into the habit of wearing their seatbelts, though the state still lags behind the national average of83 percent.

The highway patrol alone wrote 27,089 seat belt tickets and 7,465child restraint citations in 2009. Hitting offenders’ wallets seemsto be doing the trick, as DPS estimates fatal accidents inMississippi have dropped by 25 percent since 2005, and trafficinjuries fell another 8.4 percent last year.

“The biggest part of fatalities, even now, is they are still notwearing seat belts,” Boyd said. “That’s why Click It or Ticketstarted, to put emphasis on seat belt usage and child restraintsbecause of the number of fatalities we were having.”

For the 2010 campaign, Boyd said as many as 15-20 troopers would beon patrol across Troop M’s nine-county district, with officersassigned specific stretches of road and checkpoints appearingrandomly.

The highway patrol will benefit from a federal program that paystroopers’ overtime for the campaign, so there will be no shortageof lawmen on seat belt patrol. They’ll be out day and night.

But the highway patrol won’t be the only agencies looking for beltsacross shoulders. Local agencies also participate in the campaignas their resources allow.

“Obviously, we have other duties to do, too, but we’re going tomake people aware of it,” Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing saidof Click It or Ticket.

Rushing said his department would bring in extra manpower for theMemorial Day weekend and set up a few checkpoints. Although issuingtraffic citations isn’t the main job of county lawmen, they can andwill bust seat belt offenders during Click It or Ticket.

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson is planning the campaign muchthe same, so a short trip across a few city streets will be anunsafe journey for the seat belt non-wearer.

“We can’t just concentrate on that … but we’ll put some emphasison running some roadblocks and things like that during theprocess,” he said.