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Mississippi officials say seat belt use increasing

Mississippi public safety officials said Friday that more motorists are using seat belts after enactment of a new state law that makes failure to wear a safety belt a primary offense.

Public Safety Commissioner George Phillips said at a news conference in Richland that in 2005, Mississippi’s safety belt usage rate was one of the lowest in the nation at 60.8 percent.

Phillips said research conducted after this year’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign in May indicated an increase to 73.6 percent.

The national seat belt usage rate is 82 percent.

“This is one of the largest short-term increases recorded anywhere in the nation,” Phillips said. “Our success can be attributed largely to law enforcement officers from the Highway Patrol, sheriff’s and police departments across the state. But we are still below the national average and have some work to do.”

Highway Patrol Chief Michael Berthay said troopers and local law enforcement agencies intend to continue enforcement of the primary seat belt law.

Berthay said in most states where a so-called primary safety belt law has been adopted, long-term use has increased to levels above the national average.

Mississippi’s new seat belt law took effect May 27, in time for Memorial Day weekend.

The law allows a law enforcement officer can pull over a vehicle simply if an officer thinks the driver or some passengers are not buckled up. The maximum fine is $25 per vehicle.

Until May, Mississippi had a secondary-offense seat belt law, meaning an officer needed another reason to pull someone over, such as speeding or a broken headlight. Only then could a ticket be issued for failure to use a seat belt.

Mississippi became the 23rd state to enact a primary-offense seat belt law. Alaska’s new law took effect May 1, and Kentucky’s on July 1.