Cops crack down on 2-month-old seat-belt law|[8/1/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 1, 2006

It’s been just more than two months since Mississippi’s new primary-offense seat-belt law kicked in and Vicksburg police were out writing tickets Monday.

&#8220This law is too new for people not to remember,” said Sgt. Jackie Johnson, head of the traffic division.

A wave of publicity followed the change in state law effective on May 27 at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. Previously, not wearing a seat belt was a secondary offense, meaning citations were written only if a person committed a separate violation such as speeding or running a stop sign.

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Twenty-two citations were handed out at roadblocks. Drivers were also cited for unrestrained children.

&#8220It’s really bad in these residential neighborhoods.” Johnson said. &#8220People think because they are only going 35 or 40 miles per hour that they won’t be in a wreck or they can’t get hurt.

&#8220That’s the furthest thing from the truth,” he said. &#8220If you get hit, you have an air bag coming at you at 200 miles per hour and you’re coming toward it at 40 miles per hour; now what do you think is going to happen? That force is going to knock you back and possibly break your neck – it’s about saving lives.”

Monday’s roadblocks were on Alcorn Drive from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and at South and First North streets from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

More than 200 cars passed through those roadblocks and about a fourth of the passengers were unrestrained or did not have their children in car seats or buckled in.

&#8220If you don’t care about your own life, please have compassion for these kids,” said officer Tommy J. Curtis of the Vicksburg Police Department. &#8220This is the most dangerous thing I’ve seen out here today.”

The belt law applies to any front seat passenger or any child younger than 8 anywhere in the vehicle. The maximum fine is $25 per vehicle.

When Gov. Haley Barbour signed the bill in February, Mississippi became the 22nd state with a primary seat belt law. It was debated for many years, but this year came with a pledge of additional highway construction dollars from federal sources.

&#8220We were really hoping that this new law would make people more conscious about wearing their seat belts, but I guess there are some people that just don’t get it,” said Johnson.

All areas in the city will have roadblocks until police see more people buckled up, Johnson said.

During stops, police are also checking driver’s licenses and insurance cards, although failing to provide proof of liability coverage remains a secondary offense. They are also checking for unpaid fines.

&#8220We’re serious,” Johnson said. &#8220If you think you have a warrant out for your arrest and there are things you know you need to take care of, call court services or officer Stephen Scott and get these things handled. There’s no excuse.”

Three arrests were made on warrants Monday.