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Paynesville Press - November 19, 2003

Police to feast on unbelted motorists

The Paynesville Police Depart-ment will dish out seatbelt violations to unbuckled motorists during an enhanced Thanksgiving Safe & Sober campaign from Tuesday, Nov. 18, to Monday, Dec. 1.

The statewide effort will include participation from more than 400 law enforcement agencies, including local police departments, county sheriffs, and the Minnesota State Patrol. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety is coordinating the campaign.

Despite the fact that 80 percent of Minnesotans buckle up, unbelted motorists represented 62 percent of the state's 544 vehicle-occupant fatalities in 2002. Last year in Stearns County, 14 people died in traffic accidents and nine were unbuckled.

"If you're driving unbuckled to grandma's Thanksgiving dinner, we'll serve you an appetizer - a seatbelt ticket," said Paynesville Police Chief Kent Kortlever.

According to the Department of Public Safety, seatbelts play a vital role in occupant protection - especially in rollover crashes. The Office of Traffic Safety reports that rollovers accounted for 36 percent of all Minnesota vehicle-occupant traffic fatalities in 2002. Among the 196 occupant fatalities that resulted from rollovers, almost 80 percent were not wearing seatbelts. More than half were ejected from their vehicle.

In August, Minnesota hockey legend Herb Brooks was ejected and killed in a rollover accident.

"It's best to stay seated during the duration of the crash," Kortlever said. "Inside the vehicle is the safest place to be."

Currently, Minnesota's 522 traffic deaths are on pace to top last year's tally, which was the highest in two decades.

The Safe & Sober campaign is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and administered by the Office of Traffic Safety. It is designed to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries by encouraging seatbelt use.

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