Enforcement Agencies Announce Crackdown on Seatbelt Law\rScofflaws

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has launched the largest-ever law enforcement mobilization for traffic safety, Operation ABC (America Buckles Up Children).

The program is aimed at increasing seat belt use and enforcement of child restraint laws.

"Teens and young adults are killed at far higher rates in crashes because they are caught in a lethal intersection of inexperience, risk taking and low seat belt use," said Mineta. "These tragedies are predictable and therefore preventable, using proven techniques like high visibility enforcement mobilizations, which the Bush Administration will continue to support as it works with its partners in law enforcement and within the traffic safety community to reduce injuries and help save lives."

The emphasis of this year's mobilization of law enforcement officers for traffic safety is on protecting younger drivers. New data show more than half of all teens who die in crashes are completely unrestrained. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatal Analysis Reporting System, 4,216 teens, ages 16-19, died and thousands more were injured in traffic crashes in 2000. Fatality rates for teens are twice that of older drivers and the risk of crashes for teens is four times that of older drivers.

More than 11,000 law enforcement agencies will be monitoring traffic and issuing tickets this week and over Memorial Day weekend as part of Operation ABC Mobilization. From May 20-27, officers coast-to-coast will blanket roads with checkpoints and stepped up patrols, sharply intensifying enforcement of seat belt and child restraint laws. Laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia require that children be restrained, yet six out of 10 children who die in crashes are unbuckled.

"In 2000, 12,737 people died during the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day," said National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Administrator Jeffrey Runge, M.D. "We want to lower that number, and these mobilizations reinforce the message that the easiest way to save a life is to buckle up 'Every Trip. Every Time.' Vehicle occupants always need to use seat belts."

Operation ABC, which dovetails with national Buckle Up America Week and the intensive Click It Or Ticket law enforcement mobilization being conducted in 28 States and Washington, DC.

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Paul Evanko said 13 people were killed and 388 others were injured in the 807 crashes to which State Police responded during last year's four-day holiday driving period.

"Ten of those who were killed were not wearing seat belts," Col. Evanko said. "It is a tragedy of enormous proportions that so many lives are lost each year because some drivers and passengers don't take a few seconds to buckle up."

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) Secretary Bradley L. Mallory and State Police Commissioner Paul J. Evanko urged motorists in that state to drive safely and plan extra travel time this Memorial Day weekend in anticipation of heavier-than-normal traffic and possible slowdowns in highway-improvement work zones.

"With the increased traffic projected over the Memorial Day weekend comes increased driver responsibility," Mallory said. "All motorists should make every attempt to drive safely, observe posted speed limits, refuse to drink and drive, and make sure that everyone in the vehicle is buckled up."

Mallory offered suggestions to improve driving safety, including:

  • Plan extra time to get to your destination;
  • Take frequent breaks or rotate drivers during extended drives;
  • Always buckle up;
  • Drive according to the weather conditions;
  • Slow down and follow the posted speed limit;
  • Maintain a safe distance between vehicles;
  • Use turn signals; and
  • On interstates and other four-lane divided highways, drive in the right lane and pass using the left lane.

Mallory said PENNDOT will make every attempt to remove lane restrictions on interstates and other high-volume expressways for the Memorial Day weekend, but some travel restrictions will remain in effect on the larger road projects.

Last year, he noted, there were 14 deaths that occurred in highway work zones across Pennsylvania.

"The vast majority of work-zone crashes involve speeding, aggressive driving and tailgating," said Mallory. "The safest way to travel through a highway work zone is to stay alert; pay attention to the warning signs; drive the posted speed limit; maintain a safe distance around vehicles; and use four-way flashers when stopped or traveling slowly. Buckle up, and make sure everyone in your vehicle is buckled up before you begin your trip."

According to AAA of Minneapolis, 6.1 million people in the Midwest will travel by car this Memorial Day weekend alone. More travelers and more road and bridge construction means there needs to be better attention to work zone safety.

"Safety needs to come first, road construction workers are only inches away from your vehicle. Drivers should pay attention to things like uneven pavement, narrow lanes and maintaining a reasonable speed," said Terry Wiederich, director of Minnesota LECET, a cooperative between Skilled Construction Laborers and Union Contractors.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation show the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones has increased from 789 in 1995 to an all-time high of 1,093 in 2000. Each year, more than 80 percent of all fatalities in work zone crashes are motor vehicle occupants. In addition, more than 40,000 injuries occur in work zones each year.

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