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Seat belt campaign shows results

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Aug. 1, 2001
JACKSON Mississippians this summer responded to a publicity blitz for seat belt awareness, bucking their reputation as highway safety slackers.
Officials Tuesday said a "Click it or Ticket" campaign in late May and early June raised seat belt use from 49 percent to 62 percent among drivers and front-seat passengers traveling Mississippi roads.
Mississippi was one of eight Southeastern states participating in the campaign around Memorial Day weekend. While all eight states recorded increases in seat belt use, Mississippi reported the second-highest increase after Tennessee.
The federal government provided money for extra overtime and supplies for the Highway Patrol and other agencies to check on seat belt usage.
Lauderdale County reported a 6 percent increase in seat belt use following the campaign.
Maj. Ward Calhoun of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department said the increase was determined by observing 300 vehicles at a certain location before the campaign and the same number of vehicles at the same location after the campaign.
Lt. Wade Johnson, public information officer for the Meridian Police Department, said that the city reported a 10 percent increase in seat belt use. He said the MPD measured seat belt use at three separate intersections before and after the campaign.
Workers at Mississippi State University's Social Science Research Center crunched numbers to determine the seat belt use rate, and those numbers were released Tuesday at a news conference at the Highway Patrol headquarters in Jackson.
Mississippi law requires drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, but it's not a primary offense law. That means officers must have some other reason such as speeding to pull over a driver. The first ticket for failure to wear a seat belt costs $25.
Several people pulling up outside the Highway Patrol headquarters Tuesday weren't strapped in.
Sean Atkins of Collins, who stood outside the building talking to a friend, said he tries to use his seat belt every time he drives, even though doing so makes him feel claustrophobic. He said an officer once warned him for failing to wear a seat belt.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who advocates a primary-offense seat belt law, praised the safety efforts at Tuesday's gathering.
Musgrove was buckled in the front passenger seat when his state vehicle, driven by a state trooper, was hit in the side at a dark, rural intersection. He credits the seat belt and an air bag with saving his life.
The National Safety Council released a national report card on seat belt and child safety seat usage the day the Mississippi began its seat belt publicity campaign. The report gave Mississippi an F.
The report graded states based on a government-approved seat belt use survey, the strength of restraint laws, fatality rates and participation of law enforcement in the crackdown. Mississippi's seat belt usage rate fell from 58 percent in 1998 to 50 percent in 2000, officials said.
Billy Terrell, director of the Highway Patrol's public safety planning division, said Tuesday the "Click it or Ticket" success hasn't changed Mississippi's low rating. He said the National Safety Council updates states' grades once a year, and Mississippi is hurt by not having a primary offense seat belt law.
Staff Writer Steve Gillespie and the Associated Press contributed to this report.