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Letters to the Editors

Don't wear a seat belt? Note: 'Click It or Ticket'

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


We're going to take a little time away from our normal hilarity and hijinks to talk about something really important.

Your life.

And the lives of your children and grandchildren.

I often think I know more about traffic and streets and highways and cars than mental health experts would consider good for me. But I don't know everything. I was blown away to learn last week that nearly 60 percent of all people killed in traffic accidents are not wearing seat belts.

Sixty percent!

Yikes!

Highway safety experts say seat belt and child restraint use would cut the number of traffic accident fatalities nearly in half for the population overall, by 54 percent for toddlers and by an astonishing 71 percent for infants.

How does this translate for you?

We can't break it down block-by-block, but we can break it down by county.

Last year, only Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Polk, Palm Beach, Orange and Broward counties had more traffic fatalities than Pinellas County's total of 123. And Polk only exceeded Pinellas by the measure of two deaths.

The deadly totals for Pinellas have been holding rather steady, too, with 128 in 1996 and 1997, 124 in 1998, 116 in 1999 and 123 last year. In all of those years, the numbers of injuries has exceeded 13,000, and in 1998, they exceeded 14,000.

The five-year toll of the dead is 619.

The cold statistics don't break down the fatalities by riders and pedestrians or by the restrained and unrestrained. But it seems safe to guess that a significant number of those 619 dead would not be if more people used seat belts.

But our record in Florida for doing that really stinks. Highway officials say that seat belt usage in this state is only 65 percent, well below the national average of 71 percent.

In fact, the record isn't very good anywhere in the Southeast. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the region has 18 percent of the nation's population but accounts for 25 percent of the traffic fatalities.

So, you are probably asking yourselves about now, where am I going with all this?

I'm leading up to telling you that starting next Saturday and continuing through Sunday, June 3, state and local law enforcement types are going to be even more serious than usual about extracting painful amounts of money from the bank accounts of motorists who don't buckle up themselves and their passengers, including children.

The goal is to raise seat belt usage by 7 percent, which would push Florida a tick above the national average.

Police agencies describe the campaign as an "enforcement blitz" or a "crackdown." Officials in Florida and in seven other southeastern states have even given the nine-day effort a name: "Click It or Ticket."

Okay, so that's a little cute, but it drives home the notion that you don't get a warning. If you aren't buckled up, if your passengers aren't buckled up, it will cost you, big time.

To be more precise, the fine in St. Petersburg is $46 per incident. Not just if the driver is unrestrained. That's the penalty to the driver if anybody in the vehicle is unrestrained. The police say if you have a passenger who won't buckle up, shut down the engine until he does, or ask him to get out of the car.

"We are declaring zero tolerance for reckless adults who knowingly disregard safety belt laws," said Col. Charles C. Hall, director of the Florida Highway Patrol. "Every trooper . . . officers representing all law enforcement agencies in Florida, are participating. . . . It's a historic cooperative effort with a single goal in mind, to save lives."

The campaign is particularly timely in St. Petersburg, where traffic fatalities so far this year total 19, up from eight during the same period last year. Of the 19 dead, five were pedestrians. Of the remaining 14, three were unrestrained.

"We're going down in flames," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Rick Stelljes. "We have to do something to make people aware of the problem."

Okay, enough of the depressing stuff.

Except Jessie wanted me to leave you with this one scary point: Traffic-related injuries are the leading cause, the leading cause, of death among children.

Please buckle up, and buckle the kids up, too.
--

Stray thought: How come we grumble and groan when brown water comes out of our taps, but when it comes in a soft drink can or a coffee cup, we're willing to pay good money for it?
--

Reminder: It's not too late to send us, by e-mail or snail mail, your nominees for the worst intersections and stretches of road in the southern half of Pinellas County. We want to hear how bad they are and the worst times of day or night to be caught there in your vehicle. And we want to know your favorite secret shortcuts for getting around the trouble spots.

Then we're going to crunch a bunch of numbers and talk to bunches of people (maybe you) and profile the worst driving problems we live with every day.

If there is a driving irritant near you, we want to know about it. And the sooner the better. Nominations close on May 31. But last-minute entries might not get the attention they deserve. So act now.

No waiting.

You must be 18 or older.

Not valid in New Jersey.

Void where prohibited.
--

And now, drumroll please, the Eyeball Jiggler of the Week.

Okay, it's not the worst one Jessie has found, but in concert with that which comes before, it's just too much to take.

It is the intersection of First Avenue N and 16th Street. For reasons we can't figure out, the road has become terribly rough and erratic. And it's a compound irritant for First Avenue travelers who, a scant few blocks back to the east, have just survived the railroad tracks behind police headquarters.
--

Dr. Delay's Terrible Traffic Tidbit of the Week:

Last year, nationwide, 41,800 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes and 3.2-million injured.

Please reread Item One, above.

- Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at docdelay@sptimes.com, by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave., S, St. Petersburg 33701.
--

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