Platte County residents riding in the front seats of vehicles appear to not be doing as well as some of their counterparts around the state in regard to buckling up.

Released information from the Platte County Sheriff’s Office shows that the state average of front passenger seat belt usage last year sat at 86 percent, and 97 percent used proper child restraint devices. The office recently completed its most recent installation of the Click it or Ticket mobilization in collaboration with the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, which yielded some unnerving results.

Prior to starting the grant-funded campaign that allows for sheriff’s deputies and police officers around the state to work overtime hours to enforce seat belt laws, among other things, pre-enforcement surveys are generally completed to gauge where communities – and counties as a whole – stand in terms of complying with seat belt laws.

Pre-survey results showed that surveyed residents riding in the front seats were only using seat belts in 66 percent of all driving situations. That number jumped to 77 percent following post-enforcement surveys, however, the results are still a bit disconcerting for law enforcement.

“Sadly, Platte County remains under the state average for seat belt usage,” Platte County Sheriff Ed Wemhoff said, through a released statement. “The sheriff’s office shall continue to conduct similar enforcement efforts in the future.

“It’s the goal of the sheriff’s office to increase safety belt usage in Platte County in hopes of reducing the number of serious and/or fatality accidents.”

Bill Kovarik, federal aid administrator for the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, said that dozens of agencies around the state applied and were given grants to promote safer driving habits in their given communities. Typically, Kovarik said that Click it or Ticket campaigns are held once in the early summer followed by a November undertaking.

“We did about 50 different grants that ranged anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars,” he said of the campaign that just wrapped up. “… We are always looking for ways to promote wearing your seat belt and ways to diminish fatalities and other types of crashes on the roadway.”

Of the 175 automobile-related fatalities that happened in Nebraska last year, 116 passengers (66 percent) were not wearing safety belts, according to information provided by the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety.

During the Click it or Ticket campaign, deputies working overtime hours patrolled high-traffic areas, with the predominant focus being on safety belt enforcement stemming from traffic violations. The mobilization was held over the Memorial Day holiday period from May 20-June 2 and ultimately yielded 41 citations and seven arrests.

Addressed offenses were: Driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence of drugs/narcotics, driving during a period of revocation and driving during a period of suspension, according to the sheriff’s office.

The Columbus Police Department, also participating in the mobilization through a $3,000 highway safety office grant, tallied 28 arrests for things like driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol and driving during a period of suspension. In addition, officers recovered a stolen vehicle and jailed seven people on active arrest warrants. In addition, the department issued 39 citations and 168 warnings for other various violations.

A post-campaign survey conducted by Columbus police showed that 82 percent of surveyed residents in the front seat were buckling up, a sizable increase from the 70 percent tallied during their survey completed pre-mobilization. That number, however, still reads lower than the state average.

Kovarik noted how campaigns like Click it or Ticket and the numerous others pushed by the highway safety office really do make a difference.

“First we do the public campaign (letting people know it’s coming) and then we do the enforcement campaign to make sure that people are actually paying attention to the campaign,” Kovarik said. “… It’s all about increasing the awareness of wearing seat belts because it really does save lives.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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