Forty Five Governors Sign Zero Tolerance Pledge For Holiday Weekend
By Joseph Giordono, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON - Hoping to reduce the number of child fatalities in traffic accidents, forty five governors and all fifty state highway patrol chiefs have adopted a zero tolerance pledge for drivers who fail to properly restrain children in vehicles over the Memorial Day weekend -- one of the heaviest periods of auto travel each year in the United States.
More than 1,000 business and community organizations, the U.S. Department of Transportation and over 6,000 local law enforcement agencies have endorsed the effort, according to Susan Denzer of the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization supported by the insurance industry.
According to Transportation Department figures, nearly 1,000 children are killed or injured in car accidents each day and traffic crashes are the leading cause of death and injury to children in the United States. Although it is illegal in all 50 states for children to ride in a vehicle unbuckled, six out of ten children killed in auto accidents are completely unrestrained.
Organized by the National Safety Council and scheduled to last from May 24-31, the effort comes as the Department of Transportation releases figures showing the previous three similar mobilizations helped raise the use of safety belts on children ages 1-4 from 60 percent in 1996 to 87 percent in 1998.
"Because adults are breaking the law, children are being needlessly crippled and killed every day," said Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "There should be zero tolerance for drivers with unbuckled kids in every state, every day of the year. The increase in child restraint use in the last two years reflects the importance of enforcing the laws."
As of Thursday, only the governors of Alabama, Kansas, South Dakota, Wyoming and Texas had not adopted the pledge. The other governors have issued resolutions stating, in part, "I support making child passenger safety a priority in my state through highly visible enforcement."
South Dakota Gov Bill Janklow declined to sign the pledge, saying that a previously adopted Buckle, America! week proclamation was more encompassing than the National Safety Council's Operation ABC language.
"I don't have to sign a pledge," Gov. Janklow said. "Our state legislature has spoken. We have a zero tolerance law that is enforced on a daily basis, not just some governor's speech or pledge."
Participating states will utilize a number of strategies in implementing the zero-tolerance policy.
- Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, for example, has coupled the Operation ABC Mobilization with its "Operation Strap-n-Snap," which involves over 300 enforcement agencies and countless road checkpoints. The Fulton County Sheriff's Office and the Marietta Police Department will combine to establish 48 safety checkpoints in and around the Atlanta area. Since August 1997, Georgia officials have conducted four increased enforcement periods, according to the state Department of Transportation. Officers issued a total of 117,512 adult seat belt citations and 9,508 child restraint citations. As a result, officials say, seat belt use is up from 60 to 76 percent. While enforcing seat belt laws, officers caught 3,720 drunk drivers, made 1,447 drug arrests and apprehended 1,005 fugitives.
- Throughout the Memorial Day weekend, officers in the Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego Police Departments, in addition to all divisions of the California Highway Patrol, will be stepping up enforcement of seat belt laws throughout the state. In addition, the agencies will establish checkpoints at which they will inspect whether child safety seats are being properly secured.
- About 200 agencies and all 10 troops of the New York state police will be stepping up enforcement efforts as well. Over 100 checkpoints will be established around the state, including a child safety checkpoint in Manhattan and in each of the other four boroughs of New York City.
- The Chicago Police Department, the Illinois State Police and dozens of other agencies in Dupage, Will, Lake and Cook Counties will join forces to enforce zero tolerance for unbuckled kids during the Operation ABC Mobilization. Drivers with unbuckled children will be stopped and enforcement action will be taken. The Chicago Police Department and Illinois State Police officers jointly conducted a child safety and seat belt roadside safety check during and after a Tuesday news conference to kick off the week-long campaign.
- The Hillsborough County, Florida Sheriff's Office will join over 200 other law enforcement agencies from the state in enforcing the safety crackdown. Gov. Jeb Bush has ordered state highway patrol officers to conduct saturation patrols throughout the long holiday weekend, with a major focus on the Tampa and Miami metro areas.
- The state of Colorado will combine the Operation ABC effort with its own ongoing seat belt program, "Do the Twist." Checkpoints and saturation patrols will be conducted in and around the areas of Denver, Colorado Springs, Alamosa, Breckenridge and Grand Junction. All six districts and all 22 troops of the Colorado State Patrol will be coordinating with the Governor's office over the holiday week to enforce the zero tolerance pledge.
While acknowledging the difficulty in publicly opposing such a seemingly sanguine policy, some critics have expressed reservations that increased traffic stops could lead to violations of civil rights.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union's New Jersey chapter expressed slight unease over the stepped up enforcement program coming while the state is in the midst of a crisis over racial profiling in traffic stops.
Promoters of the zero tolerance policy, however, point out the traffic stops will for the most part be non-random traffic checkpoints at which every vehicle's occupant is inspected.