Van Buren County enforcing seat belt law after Michigan plunges from 1st to 10th in usage

Posted at 11:17 PM, May 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-28 23:17:34-04

DECATUR, Mich.—Michigan is a state that at one time was #1 in the United States for seat belt compliance. But since the early 2000’s, we have dropped to 10th, and law enforcement is working to change that.

Federal and state grants that are backing a new effort of high visibility enforcement. FOX 17’s Cassandra Arsenault rode along with Van Buren County deputies to see how they are using the grants.

You may think the goal in seat belt enforcement is to get out there and write tickets to meet quotas or generate more money for the county, but you’d be wrong. A seat belt citation is $65, the lowest fine for an infraction that you can get. The main concern of the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department and police departments within the county is to simply get people to buckle up so you  make it home safe.

Deputy Brian Matthews was part of the high visibility enforcement that took place Thursday afternoon. High visibility enforcement means there was a cop on every corner of a specific area. In this case, it was in Decatur off M-51, and if having officers standing at intersections doesn’t scream to drivers to follow the law, it’s hard to say what would make them follow the rules.

“The likelihood that you would be killed or severely injured if you are not wearing your safety belt during an accident is almost three to four times as high,” said Matthews.

People who do not wear seat belts cost Michiganders $3.6 million every year in medical and insurance costs.

“You have seen how other people drive, so what that means is that we may be safe drivers, but we can’t control what somebody else does,” said  Matthews.

You are 45 percent more likely to get killed without a safety belt. Matthews says most people who aren’t wearing their seatbelts are 18 to 26-year-old males. On the ride-along, the first people pulled over didn’t fit that description. It was an older couple, and neither the male driver nor the female passenger were wearing their seat belts. They used the age-old excuse for why they weren’t wearing them: “I hear the excuse ‘I always wear my seat belt, I just wasn’t wearing it right now’ all the time,” said Matthews.

Sometimes seat belt enforcement leads police to find other violations, like the next car of young adults we pulled over. They didn’t have their licenses nor any government ID, there was no insurance on the car, and there was some marijuana.

The driver did not appear to be under the influence, but drugged driving is a problem Van Buren County deputies see often.

“Unfortunately, people don’t understand that smoking a little marijuana and driving -- or taking a bunch of prescription pills, or using meth -- and driving a car is extremely dangerous, and it does kill people,” Matthews said.

Thursday was the first day of the Michigan Summer Safety campaign.  Not only are police trying to stop failure to use seat belts, drunk driving and drugged driving, they are looking to make sure kids are not left in cars on hot summer days.