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Paynesville Press - May 17, 2006

Local police participating in statewide seatbelt sweep

Before you start your engine for a summer road trip, remember to buckle up. The Paynesville Police Department will conduct added patrols from Monday, May 22, to Thursday, June 4, during a statewide "Click It or Ticket" seatbelt enforcement sweep.

The Safe & Sober effort is coordinated by the Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety. Previous May efforts have helped increase Minnesota's seatbelt use from 79 percent to a record high of 84 percent over the last three years. Last year's seatbelt enforcement mobilization generated over 12,000 seatbelt citations.

The Paynesville Police Department issued only two seatbelt citations in last year's mobilization. A seatbelt citation costs $25 and can ramp up to $115 with court costs and added fees.

"On a road of uncertainties - including impaired drivers and speeders - the best defense you have in case of a crash is a seatbelt," said officer Chuck Buggs. "When you buckle up, you are simply more likely to survive a crash - and avoid a ticket."

In 2004, more than half of 461 vehicle-occupant fatalities were unbelted. In Stearns County, 18 died and 10 were unbelted. The estimated economic impact of 33 unbelted deaths in Stearns County from 2000-2004 was $34.7 million.

A primary factor in these costs is health care. A report from the Office of Traffic Safety and the Department of Health states that hospital charges for 906 unbelted crash victims in 2002 were over $124 million. Injured, unbelted vehicle occupants had charges 94 percent higher than belted crash victims. Nationally, every household pays $200 annually for costs related to traffic crashes.

Nearly three-quarters of the state's traffic deaths, and one-half of the serious injuries occurred on rural roads in 2004, even though more than half of the state's population resides in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. This year, the Great Lakes States (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin) are targeting seatbelt use in rural areas as part of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration special program. Dangers to rural drivers include excessive speed, alcohol use, vehicle rollovers, and low seatbelt use.

In 2004 in Minnesota, over half of the nearly 2,400 severe-injury crashes occurred outside the metro area.

Safe & Sober is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is designed to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents.

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