No seat belt? Expect a bumpy rideGoodhue County Sheriff’s Deputy Rodney Roberts has seen it all — from kids sneaking a seat belt across their laps once they spot an officer to adults driving without a belt and claiming it’s simply broken.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Goodhue County Sheriff’s Deputy Rodney Roberts has seen it all — from kids sneaking a seat belt across their laps once they spot an officer to adults driving without a belt and claiming it’s simply broken.
No matter the excuse they provide, drivers and passengers who are caught without a seat belt can expect to see a citation in their hands. And it’s not because officers have a quota to meet — they don’t.
“We’re not out there just to ticket people,” Roberts said. “We’re out there to change behaviors — behaviors that will save your life.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 2 to 33 years old. In Goodhue County last year, 26 crashes resulted in fatalities or severe injuries, and nine of those featured unbelted motorists.
Nathan Bowie, spokesperson for the department, said those numbers are less than they were years ago.
“We are seeing a pretty consistent reduction in deaths over the years,” Bowie said. “In the last decade we’re basically down 40 percent.”
In an effort to get those numbers even lower, Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths program was created. Led by the departments of public safety, transportation and health, the program encourages law enforcement agencies to get involved in campaigns that focus on traffic safety.
“The state of Minnesota kind of helps drive the campaigns,” Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin said. “It’s their grant funding dollars that allow this.”
Several unsafe behaviors that are commonly targeted during the campaigns are intoxicated driving, speeding or aggressive driving and driving without a seat belt. Goodhue County’s most recent TZD enforcement concentrated on the latter.
In less than three hours on Wednesday, Roberts ticketed six people for not wearing a seat belt.
Part of the purpose for the special enforcement is to make motorists well aware that officers are out and about looking for that specific unsafe behavior. Radio advertisements were broadcast and signs were displayed on lawns throughout the town.
“The public is being warned, we’re out there,” Roberts said.
For TZD enforcement, law enforcement agencies don’t stay in their respective towns. Instead, the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office, Red Wing Police Department, Cannon Falls Police Department and Kenyon Police Department all gathered in Red Wing on Wednesday to tackle the issue as one.
“In this type of thing, we all work together,” Roberts said.
While the saturation of officers in one area makes some drivers upset, Roberts said the saturation is a primary factor in a successful campaign.
“People are getting it in their head that we’re here,” Roberts said.
“It certainly gets people’s attention, there’s no two ways about that,” McNurlin added. “That’s what it’s intended to do.”
McNurlin said for the most part, citizens give positive feedback after TZD enforcements.
“They feel it’s beneficial … to slow people down and make them aware of wearing their seat belt,” he said.
The Department of Public Safety said the chances for injury in a crash are six times greater if a motorist is unbelted. What’s more, DPS reports that wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent in a car and 60 percent in a small truck.
“It is saving lives,” Roberts said of buckling up. “Absolutely saving lives.”