Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Chief says seat belt statistics surprising

by Steve Targo

July 07, 2011

Hurley
Geneva — In a span of a few weeks, three people died in two fatal traffic accidents along a state highway which travels through the town.

Yet between May 23 and June 5, during the statewide "Click It or Ticket" mobilization — another way of saying cops were focusing on pulling over people who weren't wearing their seat belts — town of Geneva officers issued 92 seat belt citations.

"The most disheartening thing is when parents don't take the time to buckle up their children, especially on the heels of three fatalities in Geneva Township last month, one involving an infant," Police Chief Steve Hurley said.

He added although the infant in that rollover accident off Highway 12 was secured, there were a few citations issued to parents who violated the procedure to apply safety restraints to children of all ages.

From Jan. 1 to May 31, the Geneva Town Police Department has issued 78 driver seat belt violation tickets, 34 passenger seat belt tickets and five child safety restraint violations.

"The youngest child not found in a safety restraint was approximately 3 years old," Hurley said.

It takes walking onto the scene of a horrible traffic accident involving children to be concerned when a child isn't wearing a belt or being properly secured in a booster or infant car seat, depending on the child's age.

"The law is there for your safety," Hurley said. "Statistically, it's been proven securing your child is much more effective than not restraining them. The potential for injury is so much greater than not buckling them in."

But it was the overall number of citations he said surprised him.

Having recently become the town police chief after his lengthy run at the city of Racine Police Department, he said he didn't expect the number of citations to be so high in this smaller community.

Also, Hurley said there usually is one officer on patrol per shift.

Initially, he didn't expect his department to issue 92 seat belt citations because of limited manpower.

"But it was actually fairly easy for officers to write a number of these tickets in such a short period of time," Hurley said.

Why?

"It became clear to me there are a number of people who don't buckle up," he said.

Hurley speculated as to why people aren't following the law. He said part of it may be people aren't used to being stopped solely for a seat belt violation.

According to Hurley, the mandatory seat belt law was enacted December 1987 in Wisconsin. However, back then, and for some time, a police officer couldn't stop someone solely for not wearing a seat belt. A police officer could enforce the law only if a motorist committed another violation, such as speeding.

Effective June 30, 2009, the law changed. Now, police can stop and enforce the seat belt law if a motorist hasn't buckled up.

Hurley said perhaps some people weren't aware of that, but it's likely not to be the main reason people aren't buckling up in the town of Geneva.

"I think sometimes it's just a matter of convenience," he said.

"People think they're going to just run an errand and they don't take the time to buckle themselves in. But unfortunately, when people get into accidents, they don't think it's going to happen to them."

A few times, Hurley called it "disheartening" while discussing the fatal accidents on Highway 12. In one, a 21-year-old woman and her 5-month-old died after a rollover. He said a week or two prior, a semi cab rolled and a person was ejected through the windshield.

When considering a drive somewhere could end one's life, Hurley said police don't mind writing seat belt violation tickets. He said the fine for them is $10, "so they don't mind writing them."

Another trend

Seat belt and child restraint violations weren't the only types of citations with a large number.

Hurley said recently, he noticed a large number of citations being issued to people not carrying proof of driver's insurance. Typically, this citation also has a fine $10.

Hurley said people would be better off to keep proof of driver's insurance in the glovebox or somewhere else inside the vehicle.

"Then, they'll have to got to court, bring in their proof of insurance and either have the citation dismissed or have the fine reduced," he said. "It can all be avoided by having proof of insurance inside the car."