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Buckle up in Walworth County — or you'll pay

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Kathleen Foody
July 5, 2009

Heard of "click it or ticket"? Walworth County law enforcement agencies are preparing to do just that after a new seat belt law went into effect Tuesday.


Officers now can initiate a traffic stop if they notice a driver or passenger is not wearing a seat belt.


The law is long overdue and will create safer roads, according to police departments.


"It's always positive to have that tool for public safety," said Delavan Police Chief Tim O'Neill. "Seat belts certainly have been proven to be a good tool to enhance vehicle safety, and this law corresponds to what other states have done."


The law was a provision in the state budget and qualifies Wisconsin for a federal grant of about $15 million.


Officers were able to initiate stops if children were not properly secured in safety seats or belts before the new law. Drivers also could be cited for not wearing their seat belts if involved in an accident or pulled over for another traffic violation.


The new law doesn't mean drivers should expect dozens of cars being pulled over to the right side of the road, said Whitewater Police Lt. Tim Gray.


"(This law is not) a new thing to be able to stop a car at random," Gray said. "It's going to be truly from an enforcement standpoint to get people to comply with a mandatory seat belt law."


Officers still have the discretion to issue warnings instead of a citation, O'Neill said.


"The decision to warn versus citing a driver is always taken into account by the total circumstances at the time," he said.


Drivers who are cited for violating the law will be charged a $10 fine, a number that Gray said should be higher if lawmakers want it to be taken seriously.


Fines range from $10 to $200 nationally for seat belt violations. About 30 states have instituted similar laws.


Rock County law enforcement agencies also expressed their support for the law.


"Make no mistake, there are few laws that have a more direct relationship to citizen safety than the seat belt law," said Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore.


More people do wear seat belts than in years past, but the new law will continue that trend, Moore said.


"Officers see it out in the field frequently when they respond to what seems to be a horrendous crash only to find minor injuries because people were wearing seat belts," he said.


Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said the department is "incredibly frustrated" when fatalities could have been prevented if drivers were wearing seat belts.


"Cars today are made to withstand a certain amount of impact," he said. "Often the interior of the car is intact but the driver didn't wear their seat belt and were thrown from the vehicle and that's the reason they lost their life."



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