Motorists driving through Georgia might have someone looking over their shoulders the next two weeks. If a seat belt is not fastened, drivers may wind up on the side of the road.
Georgia law enforcement officers begin their “Click-it or Ticket” campaign today. Until June 6, officers will be concentrating their efforts on enforcing seat belt laws.
“We can stop you for not wearing a seat belt. We don’t have to have any other reason,” said Lt. Chip Wagner of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. “Just like with window tinting, we can stop you if your windows are too dark.”
Wagner leads the county’s three-vehicle H.E.A.T unit that features dark blue Dodge Chargers that continually patrol local highways in the Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic program.
Click-it or Ticket began as a statewide effort in North Carolina in 1993 and went national in 2004 through the National Highway Transportation Safety Board. This is the 10th year Georgia has participated in the program.
Bibb County’s H.E.A.T. units are on the streets year-round, but this two-week concentration gives the effort a heightened level of public awareness that may have contributed to higher percentages of seat belt usage.
Last year’s 84 percent usage rate was a new high for the country. Georgia’s rate was even higher at 88.9 percent.
The consequences for not fastening safety belts can be deadly. According to 2008 statistics, 66 percent of male drivers killed in traffic accidents were not wearing seat belts. Among male passengers age 18 to 34 who died in wrecks, 74 percent were not fastened into their seats. Seat belts saved an estimated 13,250 people ages 5 and older in 2008.
The current campaign also includes making sure children are secure in safety seats or boosters until age 6.
Although the Georgia General Assembly passed a law this year requiring seat belts be fastened in pickups, it awaits the governor’s signature.
“He has reviewed it, but we have not had any action on it,” said Michelle Parks, a press assistant for Gov. Sonny Perdue. “You’ll hear something by June 8.”
Wagner said he’s looking forward to the pickup enforcement taking effect as millions of dollars in federal grant money for highway programs have been held back because Georgia does not currently require seat belts be buckled in pickups.
“We’ll get a whole bunch more money to the state that will be shared among us all,” Wagner said. “It will definitely cut down on fatalities involving pickup trucks.”
The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reports seat belt usage across the nation remains at the lowest levels for people in pickups.
The 2008 statistics show 67 percent of drivers and 70 percent of passengers killed in pickups were not wearing seat belts.
Along Interstate 16, Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum said his officers will be out enforcing seat belt laws, too.
“We always participate as much as we can,” Mitchum said. “Right now along I-16, we have a lot of road construction, so we’ll have patrols stepped up out there because of that, and we’ll have roadblocks out there.”
Click-it or Ticket coincides with the “100 days of Summer H.E.A.T.” safe-driving campaign that began last Monday. This year, Georgia’s fastest drivers will face additional fines under the new “Super Speeder” law. A $200 fine is tacked onto speeding tickets written for 75 mph or higher on a two-lane road or 85 mph or higher anywhere in Georgia.
To contact writer Liz Fabian call 744-4303.