Maine’s police departments beefing up enforcement of seat belt laws

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Maine’s police departments are delivering a message to drivers and passengers over the next two weeks: Click it or ticket.

According to a press release from the Maine Department of Public Safety, police agencies from around the state are participating in a national campaign to increase seat belt usage as the summer driving season begins.

Departments have been given $545,272 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to fund the seat belt enforcement effort, as well as overtime to increase police patrols looking for drunk drivers, speeders and aggressive drivers.

Sixty-six police departments, 11 sheriffs’ offices and the State Police will be participating in the campaign, according to Lauren Stewart, the director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.

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The Farmington, Paris, Auburn, Dixfield, Lewiston, Auburn, Lisbon, Rumford, Richmond, Oxford, Wells, and Wilton Police Departments and the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department were among the grant recipients, receiving funds between $2,000 and $10,000.

According to the press release, 159 people were killed on Maine roads last year, and 158 people were killed in 2008 — the safest years on Maine roads since 1959. Stewart said there were 42 highway deaths so far this year, 2 less than there were at this time last year.”

“The last two years have been the safest on Maine roads in the past 50 years,” Stewart said. “Much of the credit goes to the state’s police agencies for their continued efforts to make our roads safe. This year’s federal funding of over a half million dollars will continue those enforcement efforts for the entire summer driving season.”

In 2009, 58 percent of the people who died while in a passenger motor vehicle were not wearing seat belts, according to Michelle Ward, the highway safety coordinator and fatality analysis reporting systems analyst for the Bureau of Highway Safety.  In 2008, that number was 52 percent.

These type of grants have been awarded to local police departments for several years, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Since summer is the most heavily traveled months on Maine roads, much of that funding will be utilized in June, July and August, he said.

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