Officers to crack down on speeding, DUI's and seatbelt violators over holiday weekend

NAPA, Calif. (KTVU) - During the Memorial Day weekend, law enforcement will be focusing on excessive speed, DUI enforcement, and that needle in a haystack: the seatbelt violator.

The national "Click it or Ticket" campaign is underway, even though about nine in ten Americans consistently buckle up.

Federal highway officials estimate seat belts save an estimated 12,000 lives a year. But 10,000 Americans still die not wearing one.

"It can be difficult to spot a seatbelt violation," Napa CHP Officer Garrett Ray told KTVU, cruising on Highway 29, and giving drivers a quick glance as he passed. Friday evening, everyone he checked was properly restrained.

"There are still a few that are stubborn, or young kids, who feel they don't need to wear them."

An ad from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration depicts a carefree young couple in the moments before they are broadsided by another car.

Then, the unbelted driver is ejected through the shattering windshield, to the horror of his girlfriend. The scene freezes as he is about to hit the car's hood and rewinds to the moment he fastens his seat belt. The onscreen reminder: in real life you don't get a second chance.

The ad is airing nationally as part of the annual push during the final two weeks of May.

First responders see the benefits of seat belts frequently, at accidents where people walk away with abrasions instead of broken bones.

"I'll be the first person to tell them, 'hey if you didn't have your seatbelt on, this could have gone a lot worse," observed Officer Ray.

It is a challenge spotting violators: looking for the dangling buckle or no sign of a strap across the chest.

Enforcement becomes even more difficult after dark, and that's when people tend to skip seatbelts most.

Men are more likely than women to go without, but the excuses are universal.

"They say it bothers them, it's rubbing on their neck," explained Officer Ray, who has shown many motorists that their belt is more adjustable for height than they think.

Statistics show people tend to shrug off the seatbelt driving close to home and driving short distances, as well.

When they are pulled over, drivers often hurry to get their belt on before the officer gets to their window. Then they'll swear up and down, they had it on the whole time.

"If there's any doubt in my mind, I won't write them a citation, but give them a verbal warning," acknowledged Officer Ray, "and of all the citations I write, people get most upset about seatbelts, I don't know why but nobody wants a seatbelt ticket."

It is also a violation to wear the seatbelt under the arm instead of over the shoulder.

More important, research shows that position is also unsafe, even fatal in a crash, because it centers more force on the internal organs and spine instead of up higher on the chest and shoulder bones.

According to the CHP, 25 people died in vehicle collisions in California during the last Memorial Day weekend. At least seven of them were not wearing seat belts.