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More county residents were buckling up in '02

By By Robert Blankenship
Special to The Advance
Two years ago, Escambia County had the lowest seatbelt compliance rating in the state. But, since that time efforts such as the "Click-It or Ticket" program have hit home as seatbelt usage and child restraint compliance has increased.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, Escambia County, at 77 percent, rates just below the state average in seatbelt usage. That number is up approximately 20 percent from the county's average two years ago.
The same holds true for child restraint compliance. The state saw a 16-point increase in usage over the past year to 89 percent. Escambia County rates just below that at 88 percent.
The numbers in Escambia are part of a statewide trend which has seen seatbelt compliance incresase to 79 percent over the past two years. While the state average has increased several percent, Escambia County's success in seatbelt awareness has skyrocketed to just below the new state average.
"We are now close to the state average which was quite an increase for us," said Escambia County Sheriff Tim Hawsey. "About two years ago we were at about 56 percent compliance in the county, 20 percent behind the state average. We are now where the state was two years ago. The state has increased two percent since then, but we are much closer than we were."
Hawsey said there are several factors that has made an impact on seatbelt usage. The most obvious of those is the Click-It campaign.
"I think the Click-It or Ticket program has been extremely positive and is a big reason for the increase," he said. "It served as a great way to get the word out and warn drivers that wearing seatbelts is the law. The entire purpose of the program was to educate people, not to harass them and write tickets. I think it has been a very successful campaign."
The sheriff also said that law enforcement officials were aided by the tightening of seatbelt laws and that patrolling officers may pull over a motorist for the reason of seatbelt compliance.
"It use to be that we had to have another reason to pull somebody over; we couldn't pull them over just because they didn't have on a seatbelt. But, now we are able to do that and it has made a difference," Hawsey said.
The unprecedented increase in child restrain usage is the result of a number of organizations working together to educate the public. The ADPH, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Children's Health System, Alabama Department of Transportation and the Alabama Department of Public Safety each provided assistance to the public on the proper procedures for restraining a child.
"This increased rate is the result of a very effective synergy of all these groups working together," said Dr. Bill King, director of the Alabama SAFE KIDS campaign, Children's Heath System. "It truly illustrates the power of education, legislation, enforcement and service working together to effect positive changes in behavior."
Although the high child restraint usage rate has increased, these agencies note that 80 to 90 percent of child seats are improperly installed. To help correct this problem, these organizations are working to increase awareness of the need for appropriate seats and installation.
Hawsey said the increase in seatbelt and child restraint compliance is not only a product of hard work by law enforcement officials, but also by the understanding of motorists.
"I am extremely proud of Escambia County. Throughout the Click-It program there were very few people that got upset. Most people really understood what we were trying to do. We received a very positive response from residents and the recent numbers indicate that they are listening and are starting to buckle up," he said.
Since implementing the Click-It or Ticket program, the ECSO has been presented with several awards for their work.
Due to the program's success, Hawsey said his office intends to continue with the campaign.
"We are proud of the success we have had, but there is still room for improvement," Hawsey said.