All four Rice County law enforcement agencies are among more than 300 across the state participating in the Click It or Ticket campaign that lasts until June 2.
This year’s campaign is takes place 10 years after the state implemented a seat belt law in honor of Meghan Cooper, a 15-year-old Kenyon-Wanamingo student who died in 1999 after being ejected in a crash from the rear seat of a car. The law allows law enforcement to stop a driver simply for not complying with seat belt regulations.
According to a press release, officers will stop and ticket unbuckled drivers or passengers. Car occupants are advised to wear seat belts low and snug across hips, and shoulder straps should not be tucked under an arm or behind a back.
The Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety coordinates extra enforcement and the education campaign.
“We’ve heard the argument, ‘It should be my choice to buckle up,’” said Northfield Police Sgt. Kevin Tussing. “But before you decide not to wear that belt, think of those children who didn’t have the choice to live without their mother or father. Or the spouse who will raise their children on their own. All because someone made the selfish choice to not wear their belt. You can’t choose who else is on the road with you, but you can choose to protect yourself by buckling up.”
In Rice County, 42 unbelted motorists were ticketed during the 2018 Click It or Ticket campaign.
According to the release, a 2018 Minnesota Seat Belt survey found 92.4 percent of front seat occupants were wearing seat belts.
Ninety-two unbuckled motorists were killed last year in Minnesota. The release states 172 unbelted motor vehicle occupants experienced life-changing injuries last year, and nearly 70 percent of unbelted deaths happened in Greater Minnesota. An estimated 36 percent of motor vehicle deaths involved unbelted occupants, compared to 32 percent in 2017.
The release states 17 children up to 7 years old were killed in motor vehicle crashes from 2014 to 2018 in Minnesota, and only seven victims were described as being properly secured. Five were not properly restrained, and restraint use was unconfirmed in five fatalities.
Of the 90 children in that age group seriously injured in motor vehicles, the release states only 49 percent were known to be properly secured.
Children must be in a child restraint until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall or at least 8 years old. Infants and toddlers are recommended to a ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach height and weight limits allowed by the car seat manufacturer. The release states toddlers and preschoolers who reach height and weight limits of the rear-facing car seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness until they reach the harness weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
For school-aged children who have reached the height and limits of the forward-facing seat, the release states the booster must be used with a lap and shoulder belt. Law enforcement advises keeping children in booster seats based on size rather than ages.
“Your child is ready for an adult seat belt when they can sit with their back against the vehicle seat, knees bent comfortably and completely over the vehicle seat edge without slouching, and feet touching the floor,” the release states.
Statistics show the seat belt law has had an effect on the number of unbelted motorist deaths.
In 2008, 152 unbelted motorists died on Minnesota roads. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety states preliminary 2018 numbers show that number dropped to 92. In 2004-08, more than 1,000 deaths involved unbelted motorists, according to state numbers. That number is estimated to have dropped to less than 450 from 2014 to 2018.