Politics & Government

Wichita police seek council approval to continue seatbelt program

Eagle illustration
Eagle illustration File photo

Wichita police wrote more than 200 citations in the past year in a program to cut down on night-time seatbelt scofflaws.

And they want to do it again for a couple more years.

The department has asked the Wichita City Council to approve on Tuesday an application for about $15,000 in federal grants to continue the Night-Time Seatbelt Enforcement Program through the 2016 fiscal year. The grants are administered through the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The money mostly pays for police overtime for special patrols targeting seat-belt violations, specifically at night.

“The program is designed to help local law enforcement agencies dedicate time and resources to increase awareness of the dangers of not wearing seat belts after dark when a driver’s chances of being involved in a critical collision increases,” said a police report to the council. “The program will emphasize enforcement efforts coupled with a public education and awareness component designed to increase seat belt use.”

The city has participated in the program for two years.

In fiscal 2014, the department issued 156 citations for adult violations of the seatbelt law; four citations for child violations and three for violations involving teens 14 to 17 years old, the police report said.

The enhanced patrols also nailed three drunken drivers and caught a dozen license violations and 25 miscellaneous infractions.

Chris Bortz, traffic safety manager for KDOT, said the state expects to give $135,000 to the 25 police agencies statewide that participate in the night-time seatbelt program.

The grants range from $4,000 to $9,000 per department, he said. Wichita is in line for $7,290 for 2015 and $7,830 for 2016, according to city documents.

The underlying funding comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Bortz said.

KDOT gives the local departments wide flexibility in determining how to spend the money. Most use it for “saturation patrols” that send several squad cars to a designated area to watch for violations, Bortz said.

A variant on that is to have a unit stationed in a lighted area where an officer can see into cars and tell whether occupants are belted in, and then radio license plate numbers to other units to pull the cars over.

Statewide, officers in the program issued 2,600 tickets for adult seatbelt violations in the past year; 71 child tickets and 51 teen tickets.

Bortz said the numbers indicate that teens especially are getting the message to buckle up.

In the past, they made up a far larger proportion of seatbelt violations, but now “They’re getting better,” he said. “They’ve made huge strides in the last five years or so.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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