MANATEE — Seat belt citations in Manatee County have increased by 66 percent since a Florida law changed a year ago allowing law enforcement to stop motorists for not wearing safety belts as a primary violation.
And as a result of the law, officials say more people are buckling up.
“It’s because of the primary stop law,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Sgt. Paul Fieber. “It gives us the ability to enforce it more. It seems like 80 to 85 percent of people are complying. You hope they would realize it because it would save their life, but I think that it’s because the law is more prevalent.”
In Manatee between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, there were 4,363 seat belt citations issued.
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That increased to 7,244 tickets issued between July 1, 2009 — when the new law went into effect — and June 30, 2010.
Florida Highway Patrol wrote 3,138 tickets; Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, 1,992; Bradenton Police, 1,441; Palmetto Police, 512; Holmes Beach Police, 115; Florida Department of Transportation, 17; Bradenton Beach, 15; Department of Environmental Protection, 13; and Longboat Key Police, 1.
In 2008, there were 291,303 tickets issued statewide. In 2009, within six months of the law taking effect, there was a 21.5 percent increase, with 353,828 tickets written.
The fine for a seat belt violation is $116. If a child under 5 years of age is not buckled up, the fine jumps to $166.
“There are some crashes you aren’t going to survive, but I believe seat belts save lives,” said Bradenton Police Department Traffic Sgt. Brian Thiers. “It definitely increases your chances of survival.”
Excuses vary when people are asked why they don’t buckle up, ranging from them not wanting to wear a seat belt to simply forgetting.
Otis Scriven was driving a pickup Thursday morning when he was stopped by a Bradenton Police officer near First Street and Ninth Avenue for not wearing his seat belt. His passenger, Denver Baize, was also not buckled up.
“It’s not like we’re going anywhere. We’re not traveling, we’re working,” Scriven said, explaining he stops too often at different properties as a maintenance man to buckle up.
A recent study by the Florida Department of Transportation found seat belt use in Florida increased by 2.2 percent in 2010 and that approximately 87.4 percent of people chose to buckle up.
“Florida’s primary safety belt law has led to greater safety belt usage, fewer injuries and fewer deaths from vehicle crashes,” said Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Julie Jones in a statement this week.
The survey, which did not include Manatee and Sarasota counties, examined the habits of motorists in 12 counties following the Click It or Ticket campaign.
The study also showed pickup drivers, such as Scriven, and their passengers tend to buckle up less.
Photojournalist Tiffany Tompkins-Condie contributed to this story.