Massachusetts department wins grant for seat belt patrols

(SOMERSET, Mass.) -- The Commonwealth is kicking in money to help the Police Department encourage residents to buckle up.

The department received a $5,000 grant from the Governor's Highway Safety Bureau that will pay overtime wages for officers to carry out seat-belt enforcement patrols.

The grant also requires the town to contribute $1,000 in matching funds to the program. The Board of Selectmen is expected to approve that money tonight.

Enforcing seat-belt laws can be difficult, Police Chief James M. Smith said, because they are secondary violations. This means that officers must stop a vehicle for a primary violation, such as speeding or an expired inspection sticker, before they can ticket an occupant for not wearing a seat belt.

Smith said that drunken-driving patrols will begin next month around the holidays and will be conducted between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. These checkpoints will also check for seat-belt use. Officers will be paid through money from the grant.

Massachusetts has some of the lowest seat-belt usage statistics in the country, according to Smith, and Somerset is even worse than the state average. In 1995, only 41 percent of occupants in town were wearing a seat belt.

This number rose to 54 percent by 1997 as similar initiatives were put into place, Smith said, but the money stopped coming for the next two years and the compliance rate again dropped.

At the same time, Smith said that accident injury rates began to rise.

In a further emphasis on vehicle passenger safety, two officers received training as child safety seat-belt technicians. Officers Neal Cadorette and Paul Trenholme took a 40-hour course in Barnstable to learn to install the seats properly.

You'd think it was a no-brainer, Smith said, but there's a lot involved to it. It's not just a simple matter.

The department will hold a session on Nov. 25 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to show people how to properly install the seats. Residents must call in advance to let the police know they are coming. (iSyndicate; The Providence Journal-Bulletin; Nov.15, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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