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Local police ramp up seat belt ticketing efforts

In case you didn't know already, it's now considered a primary offense to not wear your seatbelt when driving.

Last month law enforcement agencies in Washington County made a special effort to enforce the primary seat belt law that came into effect in June. And as a result well more than 300 drivers throughout the county were stopped and fined for not buckling up.

The cooperative "Seat Belt Mobilization" effort ran from Oct. 9-22. Woodbury patrol officers issued 77 seat belt tickets during the time period, something patrol officer Scott Melander said he doesn't like to do, but feels he must because he has seen the effects.

"I'd like to say I was surprised that so many people are not wearing their seatbelts, but I'm not," said Melander, who said he was able to easily spot and stop more than a half dozen drivers not wearing their seatbelts in a few hours during some of his concentrated efforts over the last few weeks. "At this point I don't think people's attitudes about wearing their seat belts has changed since that primary law went into effect. But it's something that we'll continue to work on."

In May Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the seat belt law that was passed in the state Legislature, and since June police officers, for the first time, have been able to stop a driver if they can identify the driver is not buckled.

"It's not the easiest thing to spot in the world, but we're looking for it," Melander said.

Previously, patrol officers could write a seat belt ticket as a secondary offense, meaning it could not be the reason they stopped a driver, but could be added onto a traffic ticket.

Woodbury Public Safety director Lee Vague said department's recent "Click it or Ticket" efforts haven't changed the way patrol officers conduct their business.

"It really hasn't changed much for us that much," Vague said. "We've always been focused in on seatbelts in relation to traffic safety. Yes, we can now pull you over for not buckling up, but our officers have always done a good job of enforcing the seat belt laws."

Melander, who has spent time working as a paramedic for the public safety department said he's seen the effects of not wearing a seat belt.

"I've been with people in the back of an ambulance who if they would have simply buckled up they could of avoided serious injury or death," he said. "So for me its something I can see the value."

Quick trips and texting

Melander said most of the people he stops for not wearing their seat belts say they were only traveling a short distance.

"They may be making a quick trip, but the roads they are traveling on are the roads they're most likely to get in an accident," he said.

Patrol officers are also enforcing a state law that came into effect last year that bans anyone from texting on a cell phone or other personal electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, whether or not the vehicle is moving.

Melander said he's made those stops as well.

"Texting while driving really is almost as bad as drunk driving," Melander said. "That's not the easiest one to pick up, but we notice when cars are swerving all over the road, not paying attention to what's going on around them."