Saturday, May 25, 2002

No excuse accepted as police buckle down

Ohio gets tough on seat-belt use

By Janice Morse,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, also has a grim distinction.

        It's “the start of "trauma season,'” the Ohio State Highway Patrol says, because the summer driving season brings more traffic — and often, more crashes.

        This Memorial Day weekend, the patrol and more than 100 other police agencies begin a statewide “zero tolerance” enforcement of seat-belt use. Alleged traffic violators caught without their seat belts on will be cited — “no excuses accepted,” said Lt. Michael Black, commander of the patrol's Hamilton post. “There's no reason for not wearing a safety belt — none.”

        The “What's Holding You Back?” seat-belt education and enforcement campaign will continue through June 3. The patrol also is working with the American Red Cross to promote blood donations via the “Together We Can Save a Life” campaign. The dual mission, the patrol says, is “preventing highway fatalities through safety belt use, and preparing for a predictable increase in the need for blood to treat (crash) victims.”

        Ohio law has required seat belts for drivers and front-seat passengers since 1986, but compliance remains low. Surveys show 67 percent of Ohioans comply, while states with similar laws show compliance rates of 80 to 90 percent, the patrol says. In Ohio, an officer must see another offense before tacking on the seat-belt violation, with a fine of about $65.

        It's unclear why so many Ohioans flout the seat-belt law. But Lt. Mike Sanders, commander of the patrol's Lebanon post, notes a prevailing attitude that “it's an infringement on their rights,” and their decision affects no one else. But, he counters, unbelted crash victims often require more medical treatment, leading to higher insurance costs for everyone.

        “Despite all the excuses and the rationalizations, seat belts work — and the majority of the time they're going to save you from serious injury or death,” he said. “I wish I could take people to some of these crash scenes we see, so they could see what happens to people who don't wear seat belts.”


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