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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, May 25, 2002

It's not worth cheating on the seat-belt law

People say the darnedest things to get out of wearing seat belts: They're uncomfortable, they wrinkle clothing, they prevent you from making a quick getaway in case of a collision.

But what use is a crisply ironed blouse if your face is mangled after smashing into a windshield? Besides, you're unlikely to make a quick getaway if you're unconscious or your organs have been crushed.

Not a pleasant image, we know, but those are the stakes.

We support the state's "Click It or Ticket" seat-belt enforcement campaign as a means to save lives (though not as a money-making substitute for the defunct traffic camera program).

Hawai'i already has a law that requires seat-belt use, and more than 80 percent of Hawai'i drivers regularly observe it. But others don't. Police around the state have issued at least 800 seat-belt citations in recent days, which means the safety campaign, which includes $350,000 worth of advertising, also has teeth.

The penalty for not buckling up is $67. Those who don't strap a child under 4 into a safety seat will have to pay $100 for the first offense, plus $57 to attend a four-hour safety class. And the fine goes up with subsequent offenses.

You'd think that financial incentive would be enough to get all of Hawai'i to buckle up. But it's early yet. Through June 6, police — working on overtime paid by a federal grant — will be scouring for seat-belt violators at unannounced checkpoints.

Unlike a DUI checkpoint, where traffic narrows into one lane, the seat-belt checkpoints are not expected to slow the flow of traffic. Typically, officers at intersections will scrutinize passing cars and pull over the suspected violators.

As many of us know, however, it's easy to cheat with seat belts. A motorist who senses that he's approaching a checkpoint can easily grab the old shoulder harness and click it in. He can even drive with one hand pulling the harness over his shoulder without actually securing it.

But let's not forget why we wear seat belts. Nearly half the 474 people who have died in traffic accidents in Hawai'i since 1997 weren't buckled up.

The bottom line is, if you cheat on this one, you very well might cheat yourself out of a life.