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Fasten your seat belts, because every lawman in Niagara County will be after motorists who don't over the next two weeks.

Beginning today, Niagara County STOP DWI Coordinator Deputy Patrick Needle said, officers from every police agency in the county will be targeting seat belt violators through June 1 as part of the state's Buckle Up New York campaign, which is in tandem with the national "Click It or Ticket" initiative.

Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Christopher J. Carlin said his officers will use "roving patrols and a limited number of roadblocks to make sure people are using seat belts and child restraints."

Police agencies are publicizing the two-week blitz because they want people to be aware of what's going on, Carlin said.

"Our goal is not to write tickets. It's to make sure people use their seat belts because it saves lives and helps prevent serious injury (in accidents)," Carlin said.

"The object is to increase seat belt compliance in New York and Niagara County," Needle said.

He said statistics show that four out of five motorists in the state use their seat belts, and seat belt blitzes are meant to increase that compliance rate. With the national campaign in its sixth year, many states are seeing an upsurge in compliance with seat belt laws.

Following last year's "Click It or Ticket" drive, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Occupation Protection Use Survey showed seat belt compliance rose 2 percentage points nationally, from 73 to 75 percent.

Carlin noted that of 26 states in the survey, New York's compliance rose from 78 percent to 83 percent -- tied with Iowa for fifth place.

Washington state led the pack at 91 percent, followed by Hawaii at 90 percent, Oregon at 88 percent and Vermont at 85 percent. Kentucky and Mississippi ranked last at 62 percent.

Niagara County Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said the state and federal initiative is part of an enforcement and education strategy that has been responsible for saving lives and reducing serious injuries over the past decade.

"There's no question about it. Seat belts save lives," Beilein said.

Pointing to the federal survey, Carlin said the 2 percent increase last year translates into 6 million more motorists who use their seat belts.

"An estimated 500 lives per year will be saved as a result of that increase," the survey said.

Lockport Traffic Capt. Ronald Vogt said, "You can see seat belts work. With increased compliance, the number of deaths and injuries from accidents have decreased."


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