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March night patrols aimed at motorists failing to use seat belts

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) is joining forces with state and local law enforcement this March to conduct overnight seat belt patrols. This will be the first time the state has funded a seat belt campaign to be conducted almost exclusively at night.

From March 15 to 24 teams of officers will monitor seat belt use throughout the state. Violators will be fined $85 for each person in the vehicle who is not wearing a safety restraint.

The new strategy is based on data that shows 79 percent of passenger vehicle fatalities in Rhode Island occurred between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. In those fatal crashes, nearly three-quarters of the motorists killed were not wearing their seat belts.

“Study after study has shown that wearing a seat belt is the best protection in a crash,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said in a statement. “Drivers and passengers should be reaching for their belts as soon as they get into a vehicle, no matter what time of day it is.”

This campaign will be the third enforcement effort conducted under Rhode Island’s new primary seat belt law. Enacted June 30, 2011, the statute allows law enforcement to cite motorists at any time for not buckling up. Under the prior law, drivers had to be pulled over for another offense before they could be ticketed for not wearing a safety restraint.

According to the department, the Office on Highway Safety has budgeted $21,000 for state police seat belt enforcement and rollover simulator details for the federal fiscal year (10/1/11 to 9/30/12), which breaks down to about $5,526 for the 10-day enforcement period in March. The annual budget for the 38 municipal departments is $293,000, or about $77,105 for the March event.

Rhode Island has shown improvement in several key safety areas. A study conducted last year found that more than 80 percent of drivers and passengers are wearing their seat belts, the first time the state has reached that mark. This data represents an increase of 2 percentage points from 2010 and an increase of 8 percentage points in just the last four years.

Roadway deaths also have been on a downward trend both nationally and locally. A report released late last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that the number of people killed in traffic crashes nationwide in 2010 was the lowest since 1949, and Rhode Island was one of the states leading the way with a 20 percent drop in deaths from the previous year.

“The results of these studies are encouraging, but one death is still too many,” Lewis said. “Enforcement efforts like this help underscore the message that motorists should fasten their belts every time they get in a car – not just to avoid a fine, but for their safety.”

Buckling up is one of the most effective precautions that drivers and passengers can take to protect themselves in a crash. According to NHTSA, seat belts saved more than 72,000 lives across the country from 2004 to 2009. Worn correctly, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 45 percent for occupants in the front seat of a passenger car, and by 60 percent for occupants in a pickup truck, SUV or van.


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