BANGOR, Maine — Law enforcement officers from dozens of Maine cities and towns are keeping an eye out for seat belt violators over the next two weeks as part of the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign that kicked off on Monday and comes in time for Memorial Day weekend, which marks the start of the summer travel season.
The two-week “Click It or Ticket” campaign, aimed at increasing seat belt usage, is one of three motor vehicle safety programs being funded this year through $545,272 in federal highway safety money issued to the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, according to Lauren Stewart, the bureau’s director.
Stewart said the funds are being divvied up among 66 police departments, 11 county sheriff’s offices and the state police who have signed on for a summer-long effort that will include increased highway safety enforcement, beginning with the seat belt campaign that kicked off Monday and wraps up on June 6.
Though the seat belt safety program was just getting under way Monday morning, police in Bangor already had issued tickets, and not only to those who failed to buckle up, according to Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards.
Edwards said Alan Cunningham, 43, of Bangor not only wasn’t wearing a seat belt when he was stopped by city police about 7:45 a.m. Monday, he also was operating with a suspended driver’s license, was in possession of a suspended license and was out on bail. Cunningham was arrested and charged on all of the violations. He remained in Penobscot County Jail on Monday night.
According to Stewart, Maine’s seat belt usage rate was 82.6 percent in 2009, close to the national average of 83 percent.
“The last two years have been the safest on Maine roads in the past 50 years,” said Stewart, who credited the improvement in large part to Maine police agencies, whose ongoing efforts help keep roads safe.
She said 159 people were killed on Maine roads during 2009, and there were 155 highway deaths in 2008 — the two safest years on Maine roads since 1959, when 136 deaths were reported.
Stewart said there have been 42 highway deaths so far this year, compared to 44 deaths at this time in 2009.
Nationally, about 38 people who are not buckled up are killed in motor vehicle crashes on any given day, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.
In 2008 alone, nearly 14,000 unbuckled drivers and passengers died on roadways, the NHTSA noted on its website. Nearly half of those individuals could have been saved if they had been belted.
NHTSA statistics also show that those least likely to buckle up are teens, young adults, males, nighttime riders, motorists traveling on rural roads and people traveling in pickup trucks.
Michelle Ward, fatal accident statistics analyst for the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, said two other targeted enforcement programs set for this summer are “Go for Broke,” which is planned for July and will target a range of driving violations, including speeding, drunken driving and aggressive driving, and “Over the Limit. Under Arrest,” which runs from Aug. 30 through Sept. 6 and aims to curb drunken drivers.
BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.