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In time for upcoming holiday, graduation season, area law officers beginning seat belt, impaired driving campaigns

Using squad cars and the Swift County Courthouse as a backdrop, representatives of area law enforcement agencies pose for a photo Wednesday as they kick off the mobilization of Safe and Sober and seat belt enforcement patrols. The additional patrols will begin May 24 and run through June 6. Tribune photo by Gretchen Schlosser

BENSON -- Area law enforcement agencies are joining a statewide seat belt enforcement campaign and conducting Safe and Sober impaired driving patrols just in time for the Memorial Day holiday and high school graduation season.

According to Willmar Police Officer Marilee Dorn, the patrols begin May 24.

Officers from Willmar, Kandiyohi County, Benson, Swift County, Chippewa County and the State Patrol attended an event Wednesday in Benson as a prelude to the campaign.

It's been a year since state law changes were passed, making a seat belt violation a primary offense. That means officers can stop a driver solely for not wearing a seat belt. The fine for a seat belt violation is $115.

After a year of educational efforts that included police officers issuing warning tickets instead of citations, some citizens still aren't listening and buckling up, Dorn said.

"It's time to start writing (citations)," she added.

"We have better things to do than issue tickets," said Benson Police Chief Jim Crace. "We'd rather see people wearing their seat belt and just wave to say hello."

It comes down to safety and saving lives, Crace said. Since January, four people have died on Swift County roads, including two teenagers killed last week near Benson.

Cody DeVaan, 16, of rural DeGraff, and Benjamin Mast, 15, of Benson, were riding May 5 in a car driven by Justin Moist, 17, of rural Benson.

They we-re killed when their vehicle st-ruck a semi truck trailer and rolled. Neither De-Vaan nor Mast where wearing seat belts. Moist, however, was. He suffered serious injuries and was airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.

The case, along with the death of a Glenwood woman in an April 17 motorcycle crash in Swift Falls, remains under investigation, according to Swift County Chief Deputy John Holtz.

The fourth fatality was Craig W. Hartman, 53, of Willmar, who died as the result of a two-vehicle crash Jan. 7 on U.S. Highway 12 near Kerkhoven.

The statistics are sobering, with 70 percent of fatalities from motor vehicle crashes occurring in rural areas, according to Brad Kollman, law enforcement liaison from the state Office of Traffic Safety. Statistics also show that seat belt use is lower in rural areas, especially by young men and pickup drivers.

Area law enforcement agencies recently conducted seat belt surveys. The data below are the percentages of drivers observed wearing a seat belt:

- Chippewa County -- 82 percent.

- Kandiyohi County -- 92 percent.

- Swift County -- 88 percent.

- Benson -- 73 percent.

- Montevideo -- 60 percent.

- New London -- 76 percent.

- Willmar -- 70 percent.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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