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Fasten your seat belt

While Washington already has one of the highest seat belt compliance rates in the nation, a month-long program is poised to further improve these numbers.

The “Click It or Ticket” campaign, from May 9 to June 5, allocates state money for extra police hours with the purpose of enforcing the seat belt law. Passed in 2002, the law levies a $101 fine on any driver who does not use both lap and shoulder belts.

“We’re out to increase public awareness,” said Lowell Porter, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “By presenting the crash data we are reinforcing the idea that the law is a good thing.”

The statistics, according to Porter, show that 94 percent of all Washington drivers buckle up. The remainder of drivers are represented in 46 percent of fatality crashes.

To participate in the program, local police departments request state funding for a specified number of hours.

While these hours are allocated specifically to seat belt law enforcement, Porter said motorists pulled over for this particular infraction are often cited for other offenses.

“That is true of traffic work in general, when you pull someone over for one thing and find items that may lead to their arrest,” he said.

Porter said a majority of those cited for driving without a seat belt are often repeat offenders, with many already having a history of driving while impaired or without insurance.

The complete grant is $930,000, evenly distributed between law enforcement costs and media.

“We don’t want people to think we are sneaking up on them,” said program manager Angie Moss. “We wand to give them time to change their behavior.”

As of Monday afternoon, Port Orchard had not applied for the program. It has until Friday to do so.

Of the local police departments participating in the program last year, Bremerton drew 78 citations in 45 hours. Bainbridge Island had 78 citations in 55 hours; Poulsbo, 36 in 43 and Port Orchard, 21 citations in nine hours.

Additionally, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department wrote six citations in 65 hours.

Porter said it is easy for officers to see if the seat belts are fastened due to the ability to see the shoulder strap. He said people with disabilities restricting their ability to wear a strap can get a note from their doctor and present it to the officer if they ever get pulled over.

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