Seat belt enforcement project launches May 21

Megan Reed always wore her seat belt.

But for some reason, she didn’t put it on when she caught a ride to school with a friend on that snowy February morning in Pittsburg. She regretted it the instant her distracted friend lost control of the SUV on icy streets and the vehicle swerved into a ditch and struck a row of trees.

Reed, a 17-year-old junior at Pittsburg High, survived. But she broke her femur and had to perform her role in the school musical in a motorized wheelchair.

“The biggest bone in my body was snapped in half,” said Reed, who called the crash “the most horrid and memorable event of my life.”

Reed spoke about the cost of not wearing a seat belt Thursday to bring attention to the annual “Click It. Or Ticket” enforcement project, which runs statewide May 21 to June 3.

As someone who normally wears her seat belt, “I never thought this would happen to me,” she said. “But it only takes one time.”

Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Bodyk said more than 60 percent of traffic fatalities are typically people who weren’t wearing their seat belts.

“There are many crashes that people would survive if they just had their seatbelt on,” Bodyk said.

While seatbelt usage rates have climbed in Kansas in recent years, Wichita police Capt. Rusty Leeds said, the percentage of traffic fatalities involving people not wearing seatbelts remains higher than the national average.

The number of traffic accidents in Wichita has declined in recent years, Leeds said, but the number of accidents resulting in injuries and deaths has increased.

“It costs nothing to wear a seatbelt, but it has the potential to save your life or prevent serious, debilitating injuries,” Leeds said.

State law permits law enforcement officers to pull over drivers who aren’t wearing their seat belts.

Drivers complain that officers should be spending their time on more serious matters, , but traffic enforcement is part of public safety — and numerous criminals have been apprehended as a result of routine traffic stops, Leeds said.

The special enforcement will utilize officers being paid overtime through a state grant and spans Memorial Day weekend — historically the launch of the summer travel period.

Officers will be on duty for the program around the clock, Leeds said.