By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Firefighters were stopping vehicles leaving the Havre High School parking lot Wednesday and issuing coupons for discounts at local restaurants.
"I like this job," fire Capt. Bob Keeler said. "This is the good part."
The coupons were given to students who were wearing seat belts in a local educational effort that is part of the national "Click It or Ticket" campaign. Havre police officers also walked in the lot, giving coupons to students on foot who said they planned to buckle up when they got in their cars.
Havre Assistant Police Chief George Tate said police officers can't stop drivers for a seat belt violation because it is a secondary offense, so the officers had to take people's word that they would wear the safety belts.
"It's just a real nice reminder to wear your seat belt," Tate said
Local law enforcement agencies also have scheduled spot checks in conjunction with the Click It or Ticket campaign in Havre and Hill County and on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The Havre Police Department and Hill County Sheriff's Office will be using checkpoints to examine driver's licenses, vehicle registration and insurance, and will be issuing citations for any violations, including failure to use seat belts, said police Sgt. Gabe Matosich.
Rocky Boy police Lt. Arthur Windy Boy Sr. said officers on the reservation will be using checkpoints and high-saturation patrols, issuing tickets for any traffic offenses and checking seat belt usage. The reservation doesn't have a seat belt law, Windy Boy said.
"We're just checking on who's using them and passing it on," he said.
The seat belt information will be submitted to the Indian Highway Safety Program in Albuquerque, N.M.
Click It or Ticket, administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, runs from May 24 through June 6. It is intended to increase safety belt use and reduce fatalities through high-profile enforcement of state laws, NHTSA regional program manager Gina Espinosa-Salcedo said Wednesday.
"We combine that with media coverage so the public knows the law enforcement is out there to save lives, not just write tickets," she said. "If we get more occupants to buckle up, then they can avoid a citation and hopefully avoid a more serious injury if they are in a crash."
The national emphasis this year is on youths and young adults ages 16 to 34, Espinosa-Salcedo said.
"We see a lot of youths in crashes," she added.
Espinosa-Salcedo said the 2002 data on Montana accidents shows a need to increase seat belt use by younger drivers.
In 2002, 34 16- to 20-year-olds were killed in car crashes, and 80 percent of the victims were not wearing their seat belts, she said.
Among 18- to 34-year-old Montanans who were killed, the percentage is even greater. Espinosa-Salcedo said 85 people from that age group were killed in car crashes in 2002, and 87 percent were not wearing seat belts.
"Those are preventable injuries and preventable deaths," she said.
Agencies participating in the Click It or Ticket program received funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The coupons were donated by local businesses, Matosich said.
Students at the high school seemed unaware of what was going on during Wednesday's exercise, with many staring at the ambulance and firetruck by the south entrance to the parking lot with puzzled or concerned expressions.
Firefighter Joe Lamphier said most of the people they stopped were wearing seat belts.
"So far it's been pretty good," he said.
"Somebody warned them," Keeler joked.