2,356 seat-belt tickets in just one week on Colorado roadways

The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado State Patrol have just announced the results of a recently completed enforcement action entitled "Click It or Ticket" -- the idea being to stress the importance of buckling up before hitting the road. And the results are distressing.

According to CDOT, 2,356 seat-belt citations were passed out during a single week -- a figure 20 percent higher than during a similar effort last year. Why are the numbers getting worse?

"It's a variety of reasons," says CDOT spokeswoman Emily Wilfong -- among them "a heavier focus on this issue. We know seat belts save lives, and we're trying to get those who are typically unlikely to wear them to start."

The latest "Click It or Ticket" operation was conducted July 22-28 during the nighttime because, Wilfong notes, past studies have shown lower seat-belt use after dark. Since Colorado doesn't have what she refers to as a "primary seat-belt law" -- meaning that law enforcers can pull over drivers simply for not being belted -- all of those cited were initially contacted for reasons other than a lack of safety restraints, suggesting that the ticket total would have been much higher under other circumstances.

Even so, the digits are eye-popping. Of the aforementioned 2,356 tickets, 1,718 were for drivers and passengers age sixteen or over, while 638 were for unrestrained children.

These citations aren't cheap: $65 for adult tickets, $82 for the ones pertaining to kids. But the cost is far higher in a crash when people aren't wearing seat belts. Look no further than the DUI crash involving Britni Bunn, who Facebooked margarita photos before the collision. Her boyfriend, Vincent Gibson, wasn't wearing a seat belt, something that likely contributed to his death.

Last year, during a late July nighttime enforcement period, "Click It or Ticket" racked up 1,858 citations -- about 20 percent fewer than in 2013. But other year-to-year elements are similar, including the makeup of those who tend not to wear seat belts.

Wilfong lists several groups well-represented in this category, including "people driving at night, pickup-truck drivers, teens, people who have been drinking and males in rural areas."

This last demographic stands out in more ways than one. CDOT and the state patrol conduct another enforcement period each April "focused on rural areas," Wilfong points out. "We have heavier concentrations of police looking for that. If officers notice another infraction and notice they aren't wearing a seat belt, they're going to be cited for that, too."

Will the 20 percent rise in seat-belt tickets cause state agencies to concentrate even more on seat-belt use? Not necessarily, Wilfong allows, because it's already such an important part of the mission. But she hopes it will prompt people to listen more closely to what she describes as "our overall message -- that it takes two seconds to buckle up, and it really makes a difference whether someone will survive in an accident."

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Britni Bunn Facebooked booze photos before DUI crash -- and earns eight year sentence."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts