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More than 200 cited during 'Click it or Ticket' campaign

If you were driving in Woodbury late last month or early this month and you weren't wearing a seat belt, there's a good chance you got a friendly reminder to do so, in the amount of a $100. And you weren't alone.

Patrol officers issued 218 seatbelt citations in Woodbury during the two-week statewide "Click it or Ticket" campaign aimed at increasing seat belt use. That's more seat belt tickets handed out in Woodbury in such a short amount of time than maybe ever, said Sgt. Curt Zacharias.

During the campaign, which ran from May 24 to June 6, Woodbury police teamed up with departments from around Washington County to conduct what are called "saturations," where several patrol officers from different departments patrol one city for a scheduled time period. Woodbury's big saturation occurred May 27-28.

Officers on patrol from Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Forest Lake, Stillwater and the Washington County Sheriff's Department descended on Woodbury during that time span to focus on seat belt enforcement. The extra patrol effort was paid through federal grant dollars given to Washington County for the "Click it or Ticket" campaign. Patrol officers issued more than 700 in Washington County during the effort.

"What we've learned is that if you really want to change someone's behavior, you hit them through their pocketbook," Zacharias said. "If we give people warnings it doesn't seem to work as effectively as writing them the ticket."

And that's something police across the state have been able to do since June 9, 2009 when the state's new primary seat belt law went into effect. Previously, patrol officers could only issue a seat belt citation as a secondary offense. Now if officers can reasonably determine a driver or passenger is not wearing their seat belt they can be pulled over for that violation alone.

Many times it's easiest for patrol officers to spot seat belt offenders while they are stopped for traffic lights, Zacharias said.

"We stopped several people along Valley Creek Road and Radio Drive during our saturations," Zacharias said. "We gave out very few warnings and plenty of tickets."

So how much of an impact has the new primary law made on drivers who don't wear their seat belts? Last year, before the primary law was in effect, patrol officers issued 95 seat belt violations during the "Click it or Ticket" campaign.

"We were able to double the numbers from last year," Zacharias said. "But that doesn't make us happy.

"The goal is to get it down to zero. But for whatever reason, there are still people out there who don't like wearing their seat belt."