Seatbelt campaign, DUI patrols this weekend

This week and the coming holiday weekend have been targeted by area law enforcement agencies for seatbelt checks and extra DUI patrols.

The Colorado State Patrol, Moffat County Sheriff's Office and Craig Police Department are all participating in the "Click It or Ticket" seatbelt check campaign and gearing up for the Memorial Day weekend and Grand Olde West Days events.

For the Click It or Ticket campaign, the mission is a simple one as each car drives by, officers will check for seatbelt use by the driver, any passengers and especially any children who should be secure in safety seats.

Every day this week, a Colorado State trooper and a Craig police officer will spend time following that mission.

Trooper Brad Keadle was on seatbelt duty Tuesday patrolling the streets surrounding school grounds to check that child passengers and young drivers were buckled up. In just over two hours, Keadle wrote 12 tickets.

For Keadle, seatbelt compliance is something of which he knows the value he is the accident scene reconstruction specialist for Colorado State Patrol Troop 4B, which is stationed in the Moffat County Public Safety Center. After seeing all the different car accidents and what can happen to drivers and passengers without a seatbelt, it's "unbelievable" that seatbelt compliance is so low in Craig, he said.

"I think people have trained themselves to think that just because they're only going around town, nothing bad is going to happen," Keadle said. "Once, a soccer mom driving a team in a mini-van took a corner just outside of Steamboat a little too quickly and had an accident. One kid was ejected and died of a crushed skull. The mother of the kid killed said to me that when they would travel around town she wouldn't make her kids wear seatbelts they only had to when they were cruising on the highways.

"The bottom line is we train our kids to use or not use seatbelts. This kid decided not to wear a seatbelt on that trip and got killed."

In a recent visual survey by the Craig Police Department, only 55 percent of drivers were wearing their seatbelts and only 43 percent of passengers were belted in. Both numbers are significantly lower than the national average of 72 percent, said Craig Police Capt. Jerry Delong.

"It's very discouraging to see such low compliance in Craig," Delong said. "In the past, after similar seatbelt campaigns, we would definitely see an increase in usage. After each one the numbers would go up, but we haven't had the grants to do these enforcements the last several years. That may or may not be related to why seatbelt compliance has declined so much."

Even after the funding for the overtime for seatbelt patrols has expired, seatbelt enforcement will still be a priority for regular police patrols, Delong said.

In a 90-minute lunchtime patrol on Tuesday, Craig Police Officer Bryan Gonzales wrote nine tickets for seatbelt enforcement.

The Click It or Ticket campaign especially focuses on young children being buckled up or in a restraint system because the habit of wearing a seatbelt is one passed down from parents, Keadle said.

"I'm convinced kids learn about seatbelts from watching their parents we train our kids on what's important or not important by our actions," he said. "My family lives four and a half blocks from the high school, and we all wear our belts even for that short trip.

"Sometimes, I'll purposely start driving without putting my belt on right away, and I'll just watch the kids. They don't put their belts on if I don't, but as soon as I reach up and then click in, they all put their belts on without me saying anything."

For the coming holiday weekend, the three departments will be coordinating to provide security and patrols at Grand Olde West Days while enforcing a "Heat is On" weekend.

The Craig Police Department will be patrolling the Moffat County Fairgrounds and GOWD events, and the Craig area will be patrolled by the Colorado State Patrol for DUI enforcement.

The state patrol is eager for traffic enforcement within the city, Keadle said.

"There will be cruisers throughout the city, and it's a big difference for us to be in the city instead of the highways," he said. "On our normal patrols, we'll see 15 cars go by that also could be stopped while we're doing other stops. Now, in the city, we can make those stops with the extra cruisers. It's fun to work traffic that way, and we'll really be looking for DUIs it's a holiday weekend, and people will be tending to celebrate. It'd be best if we'd have no DUIs, but I find one almost without fail every time I go out for the weekends."

The sheriff's office will stay on normal patrols for the county. Moffat County Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg said deputies will be "keeping an extra eye" on Deer Lodge Park, Sandwash Basin, the Browns Park Wildlife Refuge and Gates of Lodore areas, Freeman Reservoir and Black Mountain for the Memorial Day weekend. Hoberg said the Memorial Day weekend sees high numbers of campers in these areas.

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