Police officers across Vermont are in the midst of a two-week crackdown on seatbelt use as part of a national “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign.
Shelburne Police Lt. Allen Fortin said it is critical that more Vermonters take the few seconds needed to buckle up in order to reduce the number of crashes that take lives or cause serious injury. So far this year in Vermont 13 people, including one pedestrian, have died in motor-vehicle crashes as of last Monday. Of the 12 motorists killed, seven had failed to use a seatbelt, state records show.
Fortin, the Northern Vermont coordinator for the safety program, helped host a joint news conference last week with Vermont and New York law enforcement officials on the Champlain Bridge, which connects the two states between Chimney Point in Addison and Crown Point, N.Y.
Paul White from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program in Montpelier noted this is the 17th year the two states have collaborated on to drive home the message that seatbelts save lives.
Fortin said police during the two-week program plan to use roving patrols and checkpoints on roadways identified as having higher unbelted crash rates. Officers will be enforcing aggressive driving, speeding, distracted driving and impaired driving during the campaign.
During the news conference, the sharp contrast between the two states’ approaches to seatbelt enforcement became apparent when officials were asked about their successes.
White said the Vermont police are not allowed to stop drivers for failing to wearing a seatbelt. Another infraction must be noted to cause police to pull over a driver. The fine is only $25 and Vermont has a compliance rate of 84.6 percent, White said.
New York State Police Major John H. Tibbetts Jr. said New York motorists failing to use a seatbelt can be stopped and fined $250; compliance there is over 90 percent statewide, with a seatbelt law in place for 30 years.
White, a retired Vermont State Police captain, said he is among the law enforcement officers who would like to see Vermont make failure to use seatbelts a primary violation so all motorists in violation could be stopped.
Col. Jake Elovirta, enforcement director for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, noted that drivers 18 years old and younger, along with drivers of commercial trucks, can be pulled over for not wearing seatbelt.
Two statistics that Vermont transportation officials highlighted:
• Backseat passengers have a false sense of being safe without seatbelts. Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn noted that 57 percent of people killed while riding in the backseat were unrestrained compared to 47 percent of those who died while riding unbuckled in the front seat.
• More unrestrained passengers die at night than in the daytime. Vermont’s Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Chris Herrick said 56 percent of people killed in 2016 car crashes nationwide ailed to use a seatbelt between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. The daytime percentage was almost 48 percent.
Other Vermont agencies participating in the announcement were Vergennes, Middlebury and Vermont State Police; the sheriff’s departments from Addison, Rutland and Orange Counties; the Vermont DMV, New York state police and the Essex County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Department.