Sunday, November 16, 2003

Program seeks to encourage wider employment of seat belts

By Stephenie Steitzer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

More than 300 Kentuckians who weren't wearing seat belts have died in car crashes so far this year.

And on Wednesday, a 5-year-old Carrollton girl became another.

Lilly Kelly was sitting in the front seat of her mother's car without a seat belt when her mother, Tanya Pelston, 27, didn't see that traffic was backed up on Interstate 71 near Warsaw and hit a tractor-trailer last Wednesday.

To try to prevent similar tragedies, the National Transportation Safety Board is launching a national program called Click It or Ticket on Monday to increase public awareness and enforcement of seat-belt laws. The program will run through Thanksgiving weekend.

Authorities in Ohio and Kentucky say enforcing the law would be easier if police could stop motorists for not wearing a seat belt. Currently, officers can ticket drivers and passengers for failing to wear seat belts only if they stop the driver for another violation, such as speeding.

"I think we'd be a lot more effective at causing an increase in seat belt use through enforcement if it was a primary law," Kentucky State Police Sgt. Chad White said.

White works out of the patrol's Campbellsburg office, which responded to Wednesday's accident near Warsaw. White said he didn't know the accident details and wasn't sure if a seat belt would have saved Lilly's life.

"It would certainly always increase the chances," he said.

In Kentucky, the rate of seat belt use is 62 percent, compared to the national rate of 75 percent. The rate in Ohio is 73 percent, according to statistics kept by each state.

Indiana police are permitted to stop a driver if the driver or passengers are not wearing seat belts. About 75 percent of Indiana residents wear seatbelts, state records show.

Ohio Highway Patrol Sgt. Pete Combs said as part of the Click It or Ticket program, his troopers will increase patrols in rural areas. He said people are more likely to wear seat belts when they are on interstates or traveling longer distances than when they are close to home.

Laws on buckling up

A primary seat belt law allows police to stop drivers if they or their passengers aren't wearing seat belts. Twenty states, including Indiana, have this type of law.

With the secondary seat belt law, a police officer can cite a driver or passenger for failing to wear a seat belt if the car is stopped for another violation first. Kentucky, Ohio and 27 other states have this.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board

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