Police aim to enforce seat-belt law

Fatalities caused from traffic crashes could have been prevented by 50 percent if passengers would wear their seat belts, said Lt. Rod Reder of the Hillsborough County Sheriff Office. Starting Sept. 1, Buckle Up Florida will target those who are not wearing their seat belts. The enforcement wave will be in effect until Sept. 9.

University Police and HCSO will be patrolling the main roads in the Tampa area such as Fletcher Avenue, Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway, along with Maple Drive and Alumni Drive.

?We are letting people know that anything can happen to them no matter how well they drive,? Reder said. ?It?s evident that seat belts save lives.?

Reder said traffic officers must have a reason to stop a driver before issuing a citation for seat-belt violations, such as turning without a signal or aggressive driving.

?We tend to go after aggressive drivers because they have the type of personalities where nobody can tell them to wear a seat belt,? Reder said.

Junior Jeremy Scott said he does not wear his seat belt while driving.

?I got into the habit in high school, originally because it was uncomfortable,? Scott said. Scott said he believes it is a good idea that officers will be warning Florida drivers about the importance of seat belts but he doesn?t want to hear a lecture from the officers if stopped and he is not wearing his seat belt.

?Their job is not to lecture me,? Scott said.

Reder said some common excuses for not wearing a seat belt are people do not want restrictions from the law, they were traveling a short distance or because seat belts are uncomfortable.

?The reason doesn?t matter. People put their lives at risk when they don?t wear their seat belt,? Reder said.

Lt. Chris Daniel of the University Police Department said officers notify the public through USF listservs before the enforcement wave begins.

?We like to spell it out for them,? Daniel said.

Daniel said officers will patrol areas for 24 hours. He said in Florida seat belts are required. Officers will issue $60 tickets to drivers without seat belts and drivers who have children without proper safety seats will be issued a $90 ticket.

Freshman Ha Le said she is sure to always wear her seat belt while driving for safety reasons.

?It?s important they warn others, maybe next time they will wear their seat belts,? Le said.

Daniel said officers prepare for the enforcement wave by patrolling an assigned intersection and randomly selecting 100 cars and reporting how many of the drivers are wearing seat belts.

After the enforcement wave has ended, officers again patrol the same intersection and find about a 10 percent increase for the seat-belt usage rate, Daniel said, but after time the numbers decrease again, he said.

In Florida, one-third of the population doesn?t wear seat belts, according to the Web site .

Next week?s efforts aim to lower that.

?We are ensuring everyone understands the importance of seat belts,? Daniel said. ?We are approaching people tactfully so they get education, not just a punch in the face.?

Contact Grace Agostinat oraclegrace@yahoo.com