Chagrin Valley police departments are joining the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in promoting the use of seat belts in cars during the annual Click It or Ticket campaign from May 20 to June 2.

Special patrols will look into enforcing the law in this area especially around Memorial Day weekend when the annual Chagrin Falls Blossom Time event is going on.

“We will be out in full force, cracking down on seat belt violations and issuing citations to anyone caught traveling without a buckled seat belt or transporting unrestrained children,” said Russell Police Sgt. Randy Bialosky who is in charge of the township program. “Our law enforcement officers are working to spread the message that seat belts save lives.”

The focus is on night-time hours, when seat belt use is at its lowest, he noted. The program aims to increase law-enforcement participation by coordinating highly visible seat belt enforcement, according to Sgt. Bialosky.

“We have found this to be the most effective time to remind drivers why seat belt laws matter. They help save lives,” Sgt. Bialosky said of the Memorial Day weekend.

“This is not a campaign to write tickets or train law enforcement,” he said. “This is a campaign to help keep people safe and alive. We see the casualties of not wearing a seat belt, and we do not wish that devastation on anyone.”

They review last year’s numbers to make comparisons, Sgt. Bialosky said. “We look at the numbers and we like to see 100-percent compliance.

“We want to increase compliance to bring down the number of fatal and serious injuries,” he said. While some departments have actual check points where drivers are stopped for safety offenses, Russell is simply increasing patrol over offenses such as equipment violations and speeding. When a vehicle is stopped, police observe the use of seat belts. An unrestrained child could result in a $125 fine through the Chardon court, he said.

South Russell Police Chief Mike Rizzo said the South Russell Police Department has participated in the program for the past several years.

The South Russell officers document traffic enforcement activities during the campaign including the stops for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and enforcement of other traffic laws. Banners are put in place announcing the campaign.

It is fairly easy to spot when someone is not wearing a seat belt, he noted. “The buckle is usually hanging over the person’s shoulder.”

The seat belt rule is based on a secondary offense. If a driver is pulled over for a moving violation as an example, the officer takes note if everyone is wearing a seat belt.

“I believe we are seeing more compliance than we used to,” Chief Rizzo said of seat belt use. “It’s been much better over the last few years. We try to especially focus on kids,” he added.

The South Russell department holds a class on seat belt use for students in third grade at Gurney Elementary School. Officer John Zippay leads the program and this week was aided by Officer Eric Kimbell.

The department at one time received a grant from the Ohio Department of Public Safety but that was discontinued and now they use the community service funding from the South Russell Police Department’s budget, Chief Rizzo said. “It truly helps kids recognize it is the appropriate thing to do,” he said of teaching them about seat belt use.

Officer Zippay said they use a video and talk about the “science behind using a seat belt.” The officers bring in a ramp and use a toy Barbie doll car. The ramp looks like a road and they belt in an egg with a face in the car, he said.

At the bottom of the ramp is a telephone pole and he drops the car down the ramp and it hits the pole. The egg is okay if it is belted in. They then take off the belt and when the car hits the pole, the egg goes flying, Officer Zippay said.

The students see firsthand that having a seat belt keeps them safe, he said. As part of the program, the police department gives the students a backpack with the police department’s logo and a water bottle.

“We feel third-graders can consciously make a decision to put on a seat belt themselves,” Officer Zippay said. “It’s about developing a habit and we want to catch them at an age to carry this on for life.”

Chagrin Falls Police Chief Amber Decek said the department enforces seat belt use at all times. If an officer stops someone for a violation and the driver or a passenger is not wearing a seat belt, “It’s something we enforce,” she said. “A parent could be charged. There are requirements for children to be buckled up or to be in a child restrain seat.”

Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hilldenbrand said the campaign is a statewide initiative to get everyone to wear seat belts. The organizers from the state will be at the Thompson drag raceway to kick off the campaign in this area, he said. “There are still a lot of people who don’t use seat belts. I truly believe seat belts save lives. It should be a habit.”

Information on seat belt use is also available at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, www.nhtsa.gov/ciot.

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