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Hingham police begin new seat belt crackdown

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 18, 2013 11:47 AM

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Hingham Police

A photo of a nonfatal crash on Main St. Rte. 228 with an unbelted driver, who was injured in the crash.

Hingham Police have received $1,500 in state funding to crack down on adults and kids who don't buckle up.

The grant is not the first for the town, which has employed a similar officer-saturation and seat belt-awareness campaign from May to June for the past several years with the help of the same type of grant.

“We see every day at crashes how seat belt reduce serious injuries and saves lives” said Traffic Sergeant Steven Dearth of the importance of the campaign.

This time the grant has enabled officer saturation around Halloween. As before, the recently received grant from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (Highway Safety Division) will help Hingham put additional officers on the street, all actively looking for traffic violations and taking note if drivers and passengers are buckled up.

The crackdown will be the first to run from Oct. 18 through Nov. 1, and will enable an additional 36 hours of patrolling on the streets.

Hingham is one of 96 Massachusetts police departments participating in the crackdown, and will issue fines of $25 for each person in a car who is not belted.

Drivers will be cited for passengers 15 and under who are not buckled. Passengers 16 and older will be cited directly. Officers are also reminding drivers to keep seat belts on until the officer gets to the car to avoid any confusion.

Though seat belt enforcement will be concentrated during the latter half of the month, Hingham Police said they work on seat belt enforcement all year long.

So far this year, police have issued 416 seat belt citations, down from 568 in the same period of 2012.

“One reason for the decline in seat belt citations may be an increase in seat belt usage. Observations surveys, conducted in 2013 by the Hingham Police to help determine seat belt usage rates, showed 88% of drivers were wearing their seat belt. This is slightly above the national usage rate of 86%,” police said in a release.

Statistics bear out the numbers for why seat belts should be worn, Dearth said, noting that the fine is so little it truly isn't a revenue-generating enterprise.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over half of the 21,253 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2011 were unbelted at the time of the crash.

Those deaths were more prevalent at night than during the daytime, the release said. Officers working this grant will subsequently work both day and evening time frames.

These national statistics are mirrored here in Massachusetts. According to the Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 54 percent of people killed in passenger motor vehicle crashes in Massachusetts during 2011 were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.

In Massachusetts, the crash data from October 2011 show there were 37 fatalities and over 275 people with incapacitating injuries who were not wearing a seat belt.

With awareness, hopefully the statistics can be cut down locally.

“Putting your seat belt on should become part of your routine when getting in the car, just like turning on your radio,” Dearth said.

The seatbelt awareness is a part of a larger campaign to make seat belt wearing a primary offense, or to enable officers to pull drivers over on seat belt violations.

Currently, a driver can only be ticketed on the offense if they have been pulled over for a separate driving infraction. Officers can pull over drivers who have children ages 12 and under unbuckled in the car.

"We hope that law passes…states that pass a primary offense law instantly the usage of seat belts goes up 8-10 percent," Dearth said. "More people will buckle up, because they don’t want to get hassled and pulled over for not having a seat belt alone.”

Injuries and fatalities as a result of crashes have also decreased in states that have passed the primary offense law.

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