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MAHONING VALLEY Officials promote seat-belt campaign



Published: Thu, May 24, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The stepped-up enforcement runs Friday through Memorial Day.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Buckle up -- it saves lives.

That's today's message and "What's holding you back?" is the campaign being promoted statewide.

Stepped-up enforcement of seat-belt and child-passenger laws runs Friday through Memorial Day.

Representatives from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and police departments in Youngstown, Canfield and Poland and Beaver townships had a press conference today at Midlothian Boulevard and Interstate 680 to announce the campaign.

Blood donations needed: Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer, is one of the deadliest holiday periods, said Lt. Brian Girts, commander of the OSHP post in Canfield. He said the American Red Cross also is making a pitch for blood donations because the need increases during the summer when motor vehicle accidents rise.

Girts said of the 18 people killed last year in crashes in rural Mahoning County, 85 percent were not wearing seat belts.

Mahoning County's voluntary seat-belt compliance is 57.8 percent, below the state average of 65 percent, he said.

When asked if seat-belt violators would be issued warnings rather than tickets by troopers this weekend, Girts smiled and said, "Very unlikely."

Over a 23-year span, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that seat belts saved the lives of more than 100,000 people.

Campaign's goal: The goal is to increase seat-belt usage, not just for the Memorial Day weekend, but all year long, said Youngstown Police Chief Richard Lewis. Statistics show that seat-belt use saves lives, he said.

In 1999, vehicle crashes claimed 32,061 lives nationwide and an estimated 9,553, many of them children, would have lived had they been properly restrained, according to the National Safety Council.

A nationwide report card out this month from the NSC gives Ohio a C minus in seat-belt use.

In Ohio, police cannot stop a motorist if the only infraction is not wearing a seat belt. There must be some other reason, such as speeding, for example.

Only 17 states and the District of Columbia have "primary enforcement," which means police can stop and ticket unbuckled drivers without having any other reason for the stop.

Funds for state: In February, U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, announced that Ohio will receive $871,389 from the U.S. Department of Transportation to promote safety-belt use and improve the safety of Ohio's roadways.

The funds are part of the National Highway Safety Administration Seat Belt Grant program, which distributed approximately $38.2 million to 43 states.

Ohio's share provides minigrants to local law enforcement agencies to promote seat-belt safety, training for judges and prosecutors, the development of an occupant protection handbook and creation of a comprehensive statewide safety belt campaign.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol reports that vehicle occupants who buckle up double their chances of surviving an auto crash and better than double their chances of avoiding serious injury.




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