By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Police agencies throughout the Northern Shenandoah Valley have begun their annual "Click It or Ticket" campaigns as part of a nationwide effort around Memorial Day weekend to encourage seat belt usage.
Motorists can expect to see more police patrolling and extra traffic checkpoints along roadways through June 3. Local, county and state police gathered Friday in Woodstock to formally kick off the campaign in Shenandoah County.
Shenandoah County recorded two road fatalities and 44 injuries in 2011 as a result of drivers and passengers not wearing their seat belts. Seat belt usage throughout the state rose to 81 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2010, according to data from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
"The purpose of the campaign is not to write a lot of tickets, but to educate people on the need to be restrained in their vehicles," said Sheriff Timothy Carter.
Part of the education effort involved deploying police to three Shenandoah County high schools -- Strasburg, Central High School in Woodstock and Stonewall Jackson in Quicksburg -- on Friday morning. Police greeted student drivers and passed out cards for free ice cream at Burger King to those wearing seat belts. Holtzman Propane paid for the Burger King ice cream cards.
The Click It or Ticket campaign applies to all motorists, but places a special emphasis on teenagers and young adults. Sgt. Chris Rinker of the New Market Police Department said males 18 to 34 years old in pickup trucks tend to be the population group found most often not wearing seat belts.
Police who were at the high schools said they were pleasantly surprised at the high percentages of students they found wearing seat belts: 100 out of 106 in Strasburg, 85 out of 100 at Central High School in Woodstock and about 90 out of 100 at Stonewall Jackson High School.
"We would much rather proactively reward a teen driver for wearing their safety belt than to issue a summons on the roadway," Rinker said in a press release accompanying Friday's events.
Drivers and passengers younger than 18 years old can be pulled over for being seen without their seat belts buckled. But failure to wear a seat belt is not a primary offense in Virginia for older drivers, meaning police must have some other reason for stopping those motorists before issuing a seat belt enforcement ticket.
Front Royal police also announced Friday they will be joining the Click It or Ticket campaign on Monday.
Traffic enforcement officer Donald Orye said he conducted a survey of seat belt usage in Front Royal on May 10 that showed an 80 percent compliance rate for the town.
"Over the past years, we have remained in the mid-to-high 80 percent range, but this year we are lower," Orye said. "We want to increase this number to keep motorists safer on the roadway."