POSTED: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 4:00am
UPDATED: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 4:04am
Watson, LA (NBC33) — One in five people in Louisiana put their lives in unnecessary danger every time they get in a car. And for many, the threat of a ticket is not enough to convince them to buckle their seat belt.
So police officers, as they do annually at this time of year, are watching even harder than usual for people who break the law.
Louisiana State Police troopers and Livingston Parish Sheriff's deputies collaborated on a seat belt enforcement checkpoint Thursday night on LA 1019, near the former site of Live Oak High School. The checkpoint coincided with the annual national Click It Or Ticket campaign to improve seat belt usage rates.
The safest piece of equipment in a car is one of the simplest: the seat belt. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nearly 12,000 lives are saved every year because people who got in crashes had their seat belt on.
"Just this year alone, there have been 26 people killed in crashes, just in the Troop A area," said Tfc. Jared Sandifer of the LSP, "and 15 of those, over half of those, were not wearing their seat belt."
More people in our state died last year from not wearing a seat belt (269) than from drunk driving (229).
But Louisiana has one of the lowest usage rates in the country, with 79.3 percent of people wearing a seat belt in 2012.
"A lot of times, people say they're just going around the corner," Sandifer mentioned, "going to the store, or maybe they're claustrophobic, or just don't like to wear it. We hear all kinds of excuses."
Tim Bell has a simple message for anyone who doesn't use one: "You hit the windshield, it ain't going to feel too good."
Bell speaks from experience. He got hit by a reckless driver more than three decades ago. He did not think he needed to wear a seat belt back then. But he does now.
"And I still live with the scars from it," he said, pointing to a visible scar on his neck, "so it's a little reminder: wear your seat belt."
While the troopers and deputies gave out several tickets, they also out rewards. They gave every child who passed through the checkpoint wearing a seat belt a coupon for a free dessert from a local Chick-fil-A franchise. Some of the troopers involved said they could not remember ever using giveaways during a checkpoint, but they hoped it would engrain in the children the need to buckle up.