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Shoppers get surprise seat belt check

December 01, 1998|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Holiday shoppers at the Martinsburg Mall ran into an unexpected delay this weekend as police slowed traffic to make sure people were wearing their seat belts.

Martinsburg police spent more than two hours Sunday afternoon handing out leaflets and reminding drivers about West Virginia seat belt laws at a vehicle checkpoint on Foxcroft Avenue.

"What better day to do it on than a Sunday during a shopping day?," said Martinsburg City Police Sgt. Glenn Macher Jr.

Macher said police were checking for compliance in several areas, including state laws that mandate:

* Everyone in the front seat must wear a seat belt.

* Everyone in the vehicle under the age of 18 must be restrained.

* Children 9 and younger must be secured by a child restraint.

Macher said police checked several thousand vehicles Sunday and gave out between 50 and 75 citations for seat belt violations.

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State law prevents police from stopping a vehicle just to issue a seat belt ticket, but Macher said officers also were checking for other moving violations including driving without a license and vehicle inspection sticker violations.

The main purpose of Sunday's checkpoint was to give out information - not tickets, Macher said.

"Any time we can be informative and talk to people, rather than take enforcement action, it's beneficial for everybody," he said.

Macher said he saw a few disgruntled and disgusted looks from drivers waiting in the checkpoint line but no one voiced complaints. It took about 10 to 15 seconds for each vehicle to pass through the checkpoint, he said, adding police tried to avoid creating long traffic delays.

Macher said the city plans more seat belt checkpoints before Christmas and police will target other parts of Martinsburg with heavy traffic volumes.

The six Martinsburg officers staffing the checkpoint got some added help from the 10 members of the city's police Explorer Post No. 27 who were on hand to help pass out leaflets.

"We want people to know it's safe to wear their seat belts," said Explorer Post President Glenn Macher, 15, son of the police sergeant. "It's a good thing, not a bad thing."

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