Tuesday, May 14, 2002

‘Click it or ticket’
to boost seat belt use

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press

Gov. Ben Cayetano yesterday announced a new statewide highway safety campaign of education and enforcement to encourage the use of seat belts to reduce the number of deaths and injuries in accidents.

"We've tried the soft approach in the past, reminding drivers, front-seat passengers and persons under the age of 18 in the back seat to buckle up because it's the law," Cayetano said.

"Now we're going to take a stronger approach to draw more awareness to the issue and increase seat belt use."

The Rev. Steve Kishimoto of Honolulu's Faith Missionary Church got a good laugh at the announcement when he told the governor he could advise his congregation: "If you don't buckle up, you'll go to Hell."

Kauai Police Chief George Freitas Jr., continuing the lighter mood in an otherwise serious situation, said: "that might be a bit extreme."

The program titled "Click it or Ticket" running until June 6 includes $350,000 for media advertisements encouraging seat belt use and pointing out the consequences of not wearing them.

There's also $250,000 in federal money granted to the county police departments for overtime so officers can cite motorists and passengers caught not wearing seat belts.

Hawaii's seat belt use once was the highest in the nation, but has slipped to 83.5 percent. California now leads the nation at 91 percent.

Kauai County has the best usage at 86.6 percent, followed by the Big Island at 86.4 percent, Oahu at 83.6 percent and Maui at 77.6 percent.

Police enforcement will target key intersections and areas where there have been fatalities, said Maj. Robert Prasser, head of the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Division.

"It's going to be an aggressive campaign so we can get people to buckle up," he said.

The fine for not wearing a seat belt is $67 and the fine for not having a child properly restrained is $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense, $500 for a third offense, plus the cost of a mandatory driver's education program.

On Oahu last year, police issued 18,648 seat belt citations and 845 for child restraint violations, Prasser said.

State Transportation Director Brian Minaai said nearly half of the 474 people who died in vehicle crashes over the past six years were not using seat belts.

"Had they been wearing seat belts, some may very well be alive today," he said. "All it takes is one click to protect yourself in a car crash."

Minaai said it's especially a problem for younger drivers below the age of 35.

"These are drivers who think they are invincible, that they won't be in a vehicle crash and don't consider that they could be killed or seriously injured," he said.

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