State and local officials will join law enforcement agencies today at the state police barracks in Westminster to renew a 10-year commitment to get motorists to buckle up.
State and local authorities have declared May and June as Maryland Chief's Challenge months, exhorting motorists to comply with seat belt laws because statistics show that correct use of the belts reduces the risk of fatal or serious injuries.
"By conducting this challenge of intense enforcement for two months, we hope that motorists will get in the habit of buckling up," said Barbara W. Beckett, director of the Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use.
Wearing seat belts is no longer a matter of choice in Maryland. Since October, not wearing them has been a primary violation, meaning police officers can stop vehicles to ticket drivers not wearing seat belts or for transporting unbuckled front-seat passengers.
The seat belt law also states that children younger than 16, in all seating positions, must wear belts and all children younger than 4 or weighing less than 40 pounds must be secured in a federally approved child safety seat.
In November 1988, the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use co-sponsored the first Maryland Chief's Challenge, designed to educate the public about the lifesaving and injury-reducing benefits of safety belt use.
Statistics provided by Beckett showed that in 441 accidents resulting in at least one fatality in 1995, 68 percent of the drivers and front-seat passengers were not wearing seat belts.
Carroll motorists appear to be doing better than their counterparts statewide, but there's room for improvement, said 1st Sgt. Andy Mays, spokesman for the Westminster barracks.
Mays recently conducted an hourlong survey of about 500 vehicles at Malcolm Drive and Route 140 in Westminster to learn if Carroll motorists were complying with the seat belt law.
"I was surprised that about 90 percent of the drivers [on that day] were wearing seat belts -- the state compliance rate is about 70 percent -- but about 30 percent of all passengers were not buckled up," Mays said.
Maryland law punishes unbuckled drivers with a $25 fine. An unbuckled adult in the front seat may also be given a $25 ticket. If neither is belted and the passenger is age 15 or younger, the driver can receive a $48 fine.
The Chief's Challenge's goal is 85 percent compliance, according to a report from the State Highway Administration.
Beckett noted that 75 percent of all traffic accidents occur within 25 miles of home, a fact that those who buckle up only on long trips should heed, she said.