The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is in Omaha/Council Bluffs today (Tuesday) to tell Iowans about the two-week “Click It or Ticket” campaign that’ll be launched on Monday. Doctor Jeff Runge says the nationwide project aims to get more motorists to buckle their seat belts. While Iowa already has an 86-percent seat belt use rate, Runge says we can do better. Other states, including Michigan, Washington, Arizona, California, Oregon and Hawaii have all exceeded 90-percent, which isn’t “pie in the sky.” He says if the U.S. could reach 90-percent seat belt use, up from its current 80-percent, another six-thousand lives would be saved every year. “Click It or Ticket” will zero in on two sets of drivers, those driving pickup trucks and drivers between 16 and 24.While more than 86-percent of Iowans buckle up, only 77-percent of younger drivers are belted in, while for pickup drivers, the rate is only 70-percent. As part of the program, law officers will set up checkpoints and “saturation patrols” to check on motorists’ seat belt usage. Before being appointed head of the N-H-T-S-A by President Bush in 2001, Runge was an emergency room physician in North Carolina’s busiest trauma center. He says if more people had seen what he’s seen, more people would buckle up. Many people just don’t think it’s going to happen to them, but Runge says there are six-point-four-million serious motor vehicle crashes a year nationwide. Most crash victims are able to walk away or go home with an aspirin if they were belted in. As for the others, he says, “somebody’s putting your face put back together.” Runge says Iowa’s motorists rank high for seat belt use nationally, but he believes the numbers can go higher. The national belt use rate is 80-percent but Iowa’s exceeded that with 86-percent for several years. Iowa has a law which allows police officers to stop you just for not wearing your belt and that, he says, is what makes the difference. Governor Vilsack has challenged law enforcement to get Iowans to 95-percent belt use. The national effort with more intensified enforcement of the laws will run from May 23 through June 5.
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