photo illustration by tom sanders

Too lazy to reach over and fasten the old safety belt? Drivers beware; buckle up or pay up as the Cal Poly University Police Department joined the California Highway Patrol and many other California law enforcement agencies in the 2006 “Click It or Ticket” campaign that started on May 15 and will go through June 4 to help decrease the amount of drivers who don’t wear seatbelts.

This year’s campaign marks the second year UPD has participated in the statewide event, a campaign the CHP feels effectively increases seatbelt usage in California.

“This is the fourth or fifth year the campaign has been going on and we are pleased with its success,” said Joe Vega, CHP public information officer. “It’s a great public awareness program because people are caught, sighted and it’s used as a good reminder to drivers.”

From May 8 to 14, UPD and all participating departments increased officer-presence and monitored the number of drivers who were not wearing their seatbelts. Then from May 15 to June 4, officers will strictly enforce current seatbelt laws with tickets and warnings and from June 5 through 11 the officers will again monitor drivers to measure the effectiveness of the campaign.

Currently a seatbelt ticket is not a moving violation and a point on your driving record, but infraction amounts have increased in recent years.

“First offenses range anywhere from $60 to $120 now, more than double what they were in past years,” Vega said.

In addition to enforcing current seatbelt laws, officers feel the yearly campaign is effective in correcting many misconceptions about the laws and stress that it is just as illegal to improperly wear your seatbelt as it is to not wear one at all.

“The campaign is a great way to educate people about our seatbelt laws; in fact most people don’t know that you can receive a ticket for improperly wearing your safety belt. For instance it’s the same ticket if your shoulder portion is under your arm,” said Sgt. John Bledsoe of the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

Reiterating the fact that many officers feel people don’t understand that improperly wearing your seatbelt is illegal because it’s unsafe, some students who received tickets for improperly wearing their seatbelts were confused.

“I was on my way back from Chico and got popped for having it (my seatbelt) under my arm. I didn’t know that was illegal,” Cal Poly alumnus Joe Guilden said. “I thought it was just as safe, but he said I might as well not have been wearing one because I would have hit the steering wheel if I crashed.”

Not only is improperly wearing and not wearing your seatbelt illegal, but UPD Chief Bill Watton explained that a driver with occupants 16 years old and younger will receive a $330 ticket for the unbelted occupants. Watton also said that occupants over 16 without seatbelts will receive tickets in addition to the driver even if the driver is wearing a seatbelt.

“We’re trying to remind students, faculty and staff that seatbelts should be automatic,” Watton said in a press release.

According to a press release, the California average for seatbelt users is 90.4 percent, up from the national average of 84 percent.

Though a compliance rate of almost 91 percent sounds high, authorities said the other 10 percent or so equate to a significant amount of drivers.

The near-90 percent compliance rate sounds high, but when you think about how many millions of drivers there are on the road, even though less than 10 percent aren’t buckling up, that’s still a lot of people, Watton said.

Because the “Click It or Ticket” campaign measures the number of drivers not wearing seatbelts both before and after the campaign, law enforcement officers are able to determine the success of the event.

“In general, as a whole the campaign increases the number of drivers wearing seatbelts by around 2 percent, though here on campus we usually see a pre-campaign compliance rate of around 92 percent and a post-campaign compliance rate of around 96 percent, a 4 percent increase,” Watton said.

When asked what were common excuses for not wearing seatbelts, officers said that “I forgot,” “I am just going down the street” and “I’m not going to wear it because you can’t tell me what to do” all ranked high on the excuses list.

Whether you are driving home for the summer or just down the street, Bledsoe stressed the importance of wearing a seatbelt and said that according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety tests, that wearing a seatbelt can diminish your chances of getting hurt in an accident by 50 percent.

“It is very important for people to know that, most accidents happen close to home or work, and even a short trip demands the use of seatbelts,” Watton said in a press release.

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