Law enforcement buckles up for seat belt campaign

CHEYENNE – State, Laramie County and Cheyenne law enforcement officers participating in a national enforcement campaign will soon begin cracking down on motorists who fail to wear their seat belts.

During a Monday news conference at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, officials lauded the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which focuses on safety education and encourages motorists and passengers to buckle up as drivers take to the roads for the Memorial Day holiday and summer travel season.

“It is a dangerous place to be on the roads,” Gov. Mark Gordon said. “It’s important that we take all the precautions we need because it may not just be you, it may be other motorists that are on the road ... We want to make sure Wyoming is the safest state to travel in.”

While data indicates the use of seat belt restraints has risen since 2013, information from the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety program in 2017 indicated that 18% of Wyoming residents either were not restrained or the seat belt was misused.

Additionally in 2017, 62% of people who died in vehicle crashes were not buckled, while 1% were misusing their seat belts.

Law enforcement officials hope those statistics will improve in 2019.

Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak said as a result of focused traffic enforcement last year, CPD saw a 25% decrease in crashes in four corridors in the city.

“Don’t speed in Cheyenne,” Kozak said. “Make sure you wear your seat belt in Cheyenne, or you will receive a citation.”

Sgt. John Gay, traffic supervisor with the Cheyenne Police Department, brought up the topic of motorcycle safety and helmet usage.

“In a car, obviously you have a seat belt,” Gay said. “On a motorcycle, you can wear a helmet. Wyoming’s helmet law only applies to those under 18 years old. However, time after time, study after study concludes that riders of all ages wearing helmets have a higher likelihood of reducing injury and surviving injuries in most of those motorcycle crashes.”

Gay held up a sign with the number 60 on it, representing the number of fatalities on Wyoming roads so far this year. However, Gay said the sign was inaccurate, as the fatality number increased to 62 this weekend.

Two people lost their lives on Wyoming highways Sunday: one on Ferris Crossing Road in Carbon County and the other on U.S. Highway 26 in Fremont County.

The accidents also left five people injured, and none of the occupants were wearing seat belts, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol.

Lt. Col. Shannon Ratliff of the Wyoming Highway Patrol said his agency takes a “zero stance” on drivers and passengers who fail to buckle up.

“As law enforcement officers, we see the devastation every day resulting from poor choices,” Ratliff said. “Folks, help us help you.”

Emily Kruchten, manager of the trauma program at CRMC, said her primary goal is to reduce trauma registry numbers in the community.

“One of the safest choices drivers and passengers can make is to buckle up,” Kruc-hten said. “Understand the potentially fatal consequences of not wearing a seat belt, and learn what you can do to make sure you and your family are property buckled up.”

Krichten added that airbags are “designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.”

Wyoming currently has a secondary enforcement seat belt law, which means that while it’s illegal for drivers and passengers to not wear a seat belt when available, law enforcement can’t pull over drivers for a seat belt offense alone. Drivers have to make some other traffic violation for the law to be enforced.

While past efforts to make the seat belt law primary have failed, some entities around Wyoming are in favor of a primary enforcement law, including the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and AAA.

The “Click It or Ticket” campaign lasts until June 2.