With the help of new grant money, the Columbia Police Department will soon be making an extra effort to ensure that teen drivers are buckled up.
“Fifteen- to 20-year-olds are the ones dying the most on the highway,” said Sgt. Timothy Moriarty, supervisor of the Columbia Police Department Traffic Unit. “This is an example of an effort to target young drivers to make sure they are obeying all the rules.”
The Columbia Police Department accepted the grant of $4,608 at the Columbia City Council meeting Monday night. The money comes from the Missouri Safety Center at Central Missouri State University, through the Missouri Department of Transportation. The grant, which is partly intended to gather data about seat-belt use among teens, is one of 60 awarded statewide for the same purpose.
The grant will be used to pay police officers overtime to conduct driver’s license enforcement near high schools with the specific goal of checking that holders of intermediate driver’s licenses — available to drivers ages 16-18 – are buckled in. Restrictions on an intermediate driver’s license include seat-beat use by the driver and all passengers.
The campaign will take place the weeks of Feb. 14-18 and March 7-18, either through a checkpoint at which officers will stop a certain number of cars, Moriarty said, or a saturation patrol in which a large number of patrol cars will pull over vehicles.
Moriarty said an enforcement plan had not been finalized but the department will likely concentrate on the areas around Douglass, Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools. The schools will be informed in advance of the campaigns, Moriarty said.
Jackie Rogers, operations specialist for the state Division of Highway Safety, said other measures will be taken to promote safety.
“We hope to have educational pieces that (patrol officers) pass out during the campaign that talks about safety among teen drivers,” she said.
Glenn Carriker, assistant director of the Missouri Safety Center, said seat-belt usage is a priority statewide. He said that traffic crashes are the No. 1 cause of death in Missourians ages 16 to 21. With only 53 percent of young drivers wearing seat belts statewide, the rate of usage is well below the usage of seat belts in adults, which is 76 percent, Carriker said.
“We can’t prevent every crash,” Carriker said, but “wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of serious injury or fatality.”
The campaign will also produce data for the Missouri Safety Center in the form of a final report. Produced by the police, it will likely include a list of citations, violations to the driver’s license restrictions, and the number of drivers checked, Carriker said.
The Department of Transportation is simultaneously kicking off an education program designed to decrease driving fatalities. The program will be introduced into all Missouri high schools in February and March.
The safety center is hoping to learn if education and enforcement will do a better job of improving seat-belt usage than education alone.
But even with education alone, Carriker believes seat-belt usage will increase among high school drivers.
“We expect it to go up,” Carriker said. “We are testing several strategies to see what works in what areas. We are really asking how we can take a successful strategy from one place and make it successful in another place.”
Since its creation in 1967, the Missouri Safety Center has worked to make living safer at work, at home, at play and especially on the roads. At the center this purpose is accomplished through teaching, research and publishing as well as through conferences.