June 4, 2009 — Police continued their annual Click It or Ticket campaign this week, stopping dozens of St. Croix motorists for not wearing seatbelts and a host of other violations including for talking on the cell phone while driving and driving with too much window tinting Thursday at a traffic checkpoint outside of Frederiksted.
'"People using their cell phones while driving are a hazard to the rest of the motoring public," said Sgt. Cecil Gumbs of the V.I. Police Department at a press conference at the traffic checkpoint. If window tint is too dark at dusk and at night you just can't see other vehicles properly, while "wearing a seat belt will save your life and it is the law," Gumbs said.
People can still use a cell phone while driving, if they use Blue Tooth or a headset, or even a speaker phone, assuming they use voice dialing and their hands are free, Gumbs said. But, he emphasized, if police see drivers holding the phone in their hands, near their head, they will pull the drivers over and ticket them.
If police find a car in which the driver or passengers are not using seat belts, the driver will receive a ticket. The fine for a first-time seatbelt offense starts at $50, Gumbs said.
In 2008 there were 14 fatal accidents in the territory. In 10 of those cases, the person who died was not wearing a belt, according to figures from the V.I. Office of Highway Safety. A U.S. Department of Transportation study, released to coincide with the Click It or Ticket campaign, estimated that 1,652 lives could be saved and 22,372 serious injuries avoided each year on America's roadways if seat-belt use rates rose to 90 percent nationwide. The report, based on 2007 data, also estimates that seat belts saved 15,147 lives that year.
The percentage of drivers using seat belts in the territory is slightly higher than the national average, though St. Croix lags behind. For the Virgin Islands, the percent of seat-belt use is 87.3, compared to a national average of 83 percent. St. John has the highest rate at 95 percent, and St. Thomas has 87.2 percent seat-belt usage. St. Croix trails at 79.18 percent (See "Police Launch Annual Click It or Ticket Campaign.")
"The most violations have been for not using a seatbelt," said Officer Samantha Simmonds, busily handed out one citation after another from her post in front of Claude O. Markoe Elementary School. Perhaps every sixth or eighth driver passed either with no seatbelt on or with a cellphone pressed to the side of his or her head.
"There have been a lot of expired registrations as well, or they have a new sticker but it is not properly displayed," she said.
Window tinting must allow at least 35 percent of visible light through to be legal in the Virgin Islands, said Officer Dave Looby at the press conference while demonstrating one of the Police Department's tint testing devices. The windshield can have tint only on its top six inches, to cut back on direct sunlight, but no tint below that.
Seatbelts do in fact save many lives. Of the 4,540 16-to-20-year-old passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2007, 2,502- more than half were unbelted at the time of the crash. Teen belt-use rates are especially low at night. In 2007, almost two-thirds of the 16-to-20-year-olds killed in nighttime crashes were unbelted at the time of the accident.
Editors note:Thursday's traffic checkpoint was a local enforcement initiative and was not paid for with federal monies allocated to support the national Click It or Ticket campaign.
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