A campaign to persuade young drivers and passengers to buckle their seat belts has reduced seat-belt violations at Carroll County high schools by nearly 80 percent, state police said.
Troopers from the Westminster barracks have randomly monitored school parking lots as students arrive in the morning, and have conducted three rounds of checks at four of the county's five high schools.
The drop in the number of citations -- from 43 issued in round one, down to nine in round two and 10 in round three -- is encouraging, said 1st Sgt. Dean Richardson, who coordinates the seat-belt program for state police and Carroll Resources to Advance Safer Highways. The campaign began last month, after three teen-age driving fatalities in two years in the county.
Sixteen people died in Carroll County traffic accidents last year, the lowest figure since 1980, according to state police statistics. No one has died on Carroll highways this year, although one traffic fatality occurred in a parking lot.
"When you consider how much the population has increased in that 20-year span [to 153,000 from 96,000], you have to feel good about the success of seat-belt and speed enforcement programs," Richardson said.
Last year's personal injury traffic accidents, 591, were the second lowest in the county since 1980.
"We hope young drivers are beginning to feel comfortable wearing seat belts, that they develop the good habit of buckling up," Richardson said. "If so, they will start feeling uncomfortable when they don't use seat belts."
Richardson said troopers issued 14 citations on their first trip to South Carroll High School in Sykesville. On each revisit, four citations were handed out.
The numbers were better in visits to Francis Scott Key High School in Union Bridge, dropping from 12 citations to two on each return. Citations at North Carroll High School in Hampstead fell from 10 to two; a third visit planned for last week was postponed. Liberty High had seven citations in the first round, followed by one and three.
In three visits to Westminster High School, troopers have written one citation, but Richardson noted the first effort was spoiled when school officials inadvertently announced to students the day before that state police would be monitoring parking lots the next morning.
"Still, there were no violators cited on the second trip, and that report came from Trooper [Richard] Wolfe," Richardson said. "If Trooper Wolfe says he couldn't find one seat-belt violation, you know there weren't any to be found."
Wolfe, a 13-year veteran, averages nearly 300 written tickets and warnings a month -- double the totals of his colleagues.
Maryland law requires everyone in the front seat of a vehicle and anyone younger than age 16 in the rear seats to buckle up. The penalty for unbelted drivers is $25. Passengers age 16 or older are subject to the same penalty.
Drivers may also be issued a $48 ticket for any unbelted passenger younger than 16.