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Residents getting more tickets for not wearing seat belt

May 20, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Buckle up or pay up.

That's the lesson being learned by motorists who were issued seat belt citations by officers in Washington County recently.

Maryland State Police have issued 279 seat belt citations and 43 warnings in April during checkpoints and patrols.

Area police have stepped up enforcement and education of state seat belt laws to show that seat belts save lives.

Maryland State Police are working through the national program Chief's Challenge, and will continue their heightened checkpoints and patrols through May.

The annual program started last month, according to Lt. Bruce Smith, commander of the Hagerstown state police barracks.

Last year Chief's Challenge was conducted during May and June, according to Barbara Beckett, executive director for the Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use.

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She said state police at Hagerstown issued 743 citations and 84 warnings in that period.

Statewide, troopers issued 64,815 seat belt citations in 1997 and 80,983 in 1998.

Smith said the public needs to think of wearing their seat belt not as a mandated hassle but as a good habit.

"It's one of the most important ways you have to protect yourself," he said.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department recently received a $25,000 federal grant which will be used in part for overtime so checkpoints can be held throughout the county, said Sheriff Charles Mades.

Deputies have given out more than 159 citations in May and 268 since January.

A checkpoint at Halfway Boulevard near York Road yielded 81 seat belt violations on May 12.

On May 18, checkpoints at Oak Ridge Drive near Md. 632 and at Halfway Boulevard produced 78 seat belt violations, said Mades.

The tickets were given as a primary offense. Under the seat belt law, officers can pull over and ticket any driver and front-seat passenger not wearing a seat belt. The penalty is a $25 fine for each person not buckled up.

The law went into effect on Oct. 1, 1997.

Many motorists are not obeying the law 19 months later, according to Mades.

He called the checkpoints "a good educational tool," and said they will continue indefinitely. The number of citations handed out each month will be evaluated, he said.

The duration of the checkpoints will depend on the amount of money available to conduct them and on the level of compliance seen, he said.

Mades said wearing a seat belt isn't negotiable, it's the law.

"We're messengers and the message we're sending is that seat belts saves lives, he said.

Statistics from Hagerstown City Police were unavailable.

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