SIKESTON -- Seatbelt use in Missouri dropped last year for the first time since the Click It or Ticket campaign was established. The Missouri State Highway Patrol is aiming to correct that.
This year's Click It or Ticket campaign began Monday and will continue until June 2, according to Sgt. Dale Moreland, public information and education officer for the Patrol.
"Click It or Ticket is to crack down on low seatbelt use to reduce highway fatalities," Moreland said.
In 1998, the year the Click It or Ticket campaign began, seatbelt usage was at 60.42 percent, according to Moreland.
Two years later, seatbelt usage was at 67.72. Another two years and it was at 69.37 percent. "It just continued to go up," he said.
By 2005, Missouri seatbelt usage had peaked at 77.4 percent.
"Then last year it dropped back to 75.2 percent," Moreland said. "We had a decrease in the use of seatbelts and we still continue to have lots of fatal accidents."
In 2006, Moreland said, 1,095 people were killed in traffic accidents in Missouri, "and 70 percent of those who died were not wearing seatbelts."
With the nationwide seatbelt use recorded as being at 81 percent in 2006, "we're below the nationwide and below the year previous," he said.
Moreland said officials don't know why seatbelt usage in the state has dropped, but they are committed to bringing it back up.
"It takes less than three seconds to buckle your seatbelt -- and that is the same amount of time it takes for an accident to occur," he said, adding that it costs nothing to buckle up but not doing so can have serious consequences.
"A driver in '06 had a 1 in 2.3 chance of being injured if they are not wearing their seatbelt. However if they were wearing it, it was a 1 in 7.75 chance," Moreland said.
In 2006, chances of being killed in an accident while not wearing a seatbelt were 1 in 30.5, he said, while those who were wearing seatbelts saw their odds improve to only a 1 in 1,326 chance of being killed.
Moreland also noted that there were 1,228 traffic crashes in Missouri during the Memorial Day weekend last year.
"In those crashes, 12 people were killed and 591 injured. That means one person killed or injured every 7.8 minutes for that holiday," he said.
Moreland said $10 million is spent on advertising Click It or Ticket nationwide in an effort to get people to use their seatbelts and save lives.
All the statistics and education in the world just won't convince some people, however, so the Click It or Ticket program also includes something that does tend to get people's attention: strict enforcement.
"What we do is assign troopers to work areas where there have been high numbers of accidents and traffic violations," Moreland said. "In doing those operations, we check for people wearing seatbelts and those who are not wearing them receive citations -- we have zero tolerance for not wearing seatbelts."
Moreland asked area motorists to not only buckle up, but to really concentrate on driving safely while behind the wheel.
"Inattention is the greatest cause of accidents in the state of Missouri, so people need to pay attention, obey all traffic laws -- and buckle up," he said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol has a new emphasis for this year's Click It or Ticket campaign: getting people to use their seatbelts at night as well as during the daylight hours.
"There is a tendency for people not to wear seatbelts at night," said Sgt. Dale Moreland, public information and education officer for the Patrol. "They tend to become more complacent at night and they know we can't see if they're wearing their seatbelts at night."
Moreland said more than 15,000 vehicle occupants died in traffic accidents between 6 p.m. and 5:59 a.m. last year, according to according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.
"And 59 percent of those people were not wearing their seat belts," he said.