seatbelt

Valerie Vaughn installs a car seat for McClearne Dale Conner, 3, of Beckley Saturday at Susan Pietrantozzi State Farm Insurance in Beaver. On average, 90 percent of child safety seats are installed incorrectly, and Saturday the agency teamed up with the Beaver Volunteer Fire Department to try, if only on a local level, to improve that statistic. Certified technicians were on hand to inspect and replace outdated or damaged safety seats. The event included food, drinks, giveaways and interactive activities. Parents could also bring their children by to be fingerprinted in case a child ever has to be located by authorities.

Seatbelt usage in West Virginia has risen from 49.8 percent to 88.6 percent since 2000.

The dramatic increase, says Cpl. Paul Blume, Southern Regional Highway Safety Program coordinator, can be credited mainly to Click It or Ticket, a national campaign designed to increase the percentage of safety belt usage.

“That’s a huge jump,” Blume said of the state’s improvement. “It can be credited to the mobilization of Click It or Ticket and law enforcement working together in a unified matter.”

Blume says although West Virginia’s number was “excellent” in 2006, officials are looking to improve this year as the 2007 Click It or Ticket campaign gets under way Monday.

During the campaign, which runs through June 3, Blume says officers from all law enforcement agencies in Region 7, which includes Fayette, Greenbrier, Nich-olas and Raleigh counties, will be out in full force looking for people not wearing safety belts.

“We’ll be aggressively enforcing the use of seatbelts and child constraints,” Blume said.

State law requires that every person under the age of 18 be buckled up while in a vehicle and every occupant in the front seat must be buckled regardless of age.

Children under 8 must be secured in a safety seat unless they are at least 4-foot-9.

Failure to wear a seatbelt is not a primary offense in West Virginia, but should an officer pull a vehicle over for another offense, if the occupants are not properly restrained, the driver could be fined $25.

Blume says, on average, 400 people die each year on West Virginia’s roads.

Often, he says, those who are killed have been ejected from their vehicles because they were not wearing safety belts.

“Three out of four ejections end up a fatality,” he said.

Though many people might have confidence in their own driving abilities, Blume says they need to also think about other drivers.

“Seatbelts are the No. 1 defense against other drivers, including drunk drivers,” he said. “Everyone needs to buckle up.”

— E-mail: mjames@register-herald.com

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