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Safe and Sober seat belt campaign starts this weekend

Unbelted motorists account for nearly half of Minnesota's traffic deaths each year. To counter this trend and stop preventable deaths and injuries, Wadena County law enforcement officers will conduct enhanced seat belt patrols May 18-31 as part of a statewide Department of Public Safety Safe & Sober -- Click It or Ticket enforcement effort. A seat belt citation is $25 but can run as high as $115 with court and administrative fees.

DPS 2006-2008 preliminary data shows in Wadena County, of the five motorists who were killed, four were not wearing seat belts. Another five unbelted motorists were seriously injured during this period. Statewide over the past three years, preliminary data shows 1,096 motorists were killed in crashes -- 518 were unbelted -- and another 1,151 unbelted motorists were seriously injured.

"Increased seat belt patrols are essential to preventing needless tragedies," Deputy Bryan Savaloja said. "But enforcement can't save lives alone -- every motorist should insist their passengers buckle up to ensure a safe ride."

A focus of the enforcement will be teens and young adults -- the groups least likely to buckle up and overrepresented in traffic deaths. Statewide each year, motorists ages 15-29 account for 45 percent of all unbelted deaths, yet this group represents only 25 percent of all licensed drivers. Of these unbelted deaths, 80 percent occur in greater Minnesota. This same age group accounts for 55 percent of all unbelted serious injuries -- 70 percent occur in greater Minnesota.

Wadena County law enforcement will also conduct special nighttime seat belt enforcement patrols during the effort. DPS 2006-2008 preliminary data reports there were 276 vehicle occupant traffic deaths during nighttime hours and 169 of the traffic crash victims -- 61 percent -- were not belted.

Around 400 law enforcement agencies across Minnesota will participate in the enforcement effort coordinated by DPS as a component of the state's Toward Zero Death initiative. TZD is a multi-agency approach to address traffic issues regionally through enforcement, education, engineering and emergency trauma care.