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This item originally appeared in the December 9, 2004 issue of The Tech Talk.

By ERIN HOPKINS

Staff Writer

Seat belt compliance is an issue local law enforcement takes seriously. The Ruston Police Department and Lincoln Parish Sheriff's office started focusing on catching drivers who are not wearing the devices.

Deputy Wesley Harris of the sheriff's office said the Primary Seat Belt Law came into effect in 2001 and has progressed into a concern in the past few years.

Harris said the two departments each received a grant in November from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission to provide money for the officers to work overtime.

"Most of the time we are concerned about other things and we aren't able to worry about the violations," Harris said.

Harris said the grant will give the officers a chance to focus on seat belt violations as well as drunken driving.

"I think by focusing on the seat belt violation it will increase compliance, which will help people realize how important the seat belts are," Harris said.

Ben Pressburg, public affairs officer for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said the state needs to increase the observance of the seat belt law.

"We, as a state, have a 75 percent compliance with seat belt use," Pressburg said. "That is five points below the national percentage."

According to the commission's Web site, 66 percent of the drivers killed in car accidents were not wearing seat belts. In Lincoln Parish, 50 percent of the drivers killed in car accidents were not wearing seat belts.

"It is critical that [people] take this issue more seriously," Pressburg said. "This will drive home the point that occupants wear a seat belt all the time."

Tech Police Chief Stephen Quinnelly said the University Police have participated in the enforcement in the past and agree it increases awareness and usage of seat belts.

Quinnelly said there are three types of impacts: the vehicle and an object, such as a building or light pole; the driver and the interior of the car; and the driver's internal organs and his or her skeleton.

"If the driver is wearing their seat belt, the car takes most of the damage from the collision and the other two types of [impacts] are greatly minimized," Quinnelly said.

Jonathan Cockrell, a junior electrical engineering major, said he agrees wearing seat belts is important.

"I have been wearing my seat belt ever since I was a kid; it's habit," Cockrell said. "Especially with airbags these days, you can get hurt if you aren't wearing them."

While it is easy for some people to consistently wear seat belts, for others it is not their first priority.

Harris said the department wrote about 75 citations last week despite the rain and weather complications. The focus on enforcing the seat belt law will continue until September 2005. After this date, officers will still look for drivers not wearing seat belts.

"There is no excuse for not wearing a seat belt," Harris said. "It doesn't take that much extra time to put one on."


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