Starting today, the Alaska State Troopers and the Juneau Police Department are strapping themselves in for a busy week as high school graduation activities and Memorial Day weekend outings will put more people, and subsequently more vehicles, onto the dirt roads and pavement of the capital city.
As part of a the state and nationwide 2011 Click It or Ticket campaign, local law enforcement agencies will be out in force looking for unbuckled drivers.
A grant from the Alaska Highway Safety Office allows JPD to saturate their patrol areas for the campaign. JPD has a sign-up sheet for officers willing to work overtime for Click It or Ticket and will also have extra patrols due to the end of the school year.
“It’s a pretty busy weekend,” JPD Lt. Ed Mercer said. “Obviously over the holiday weekend we see an increase in traffic accidents. Just the mere fact that we will have more people out doing things over the holiday weekend, the odds add up of people being in accidents.”
Mercer said officers will be working four-hour blocks and focusing hard on people wearing seat belts. If a vehicle is pulled over for any reason the seat belt code will be enforced.
A seat belt violation will result in a ticket for $35, and if you are an unbuckled adult in a vehicle with a person under the age of 16 the fine is $50, even if the juvenile is wearing a seat belt.
“We’ll be out there,” Mercer said. “With this campaign we are actively trying to gain voluntary compliance from the public to wear seat belts and to be safe while out there driving on the holiday weekend. We always try to work with the public and our mere presence out there hopefully is a deterrent in itself for a high percentage of the population to follow the law and the rules of the road. We want people to have a good time but to also be responsible.”
Mercer stated that seat belts certainly cut down on the wearer suffering severe injury.
“But it also keeps you in place where you are supposed to be,” Mercer said.
Alaska Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Megan Peters said it is absurd to think that if someone doesn’t wear their seat belt and dies because of it they are not hurting anyone else.
“Besides the fact that they may strike another person in the vehicle, injuring or killing them,” Peters states in an AST press release, “their death would cause pain to many people, like the ripples caused from a stone hitting the water.”
The AST, in partnership with the Alaska Highway Safety Office, the Alaska Department of Transportation, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency, has also produced specific highway safety television ads covering many topics including impaired driving and seat belt use. A more recent seat belt ad relates to an incident in November, 2010 when Jeromey Ramage was ejected from the vehicle he was riding in near Healy and was declared brain dead the next morning — Thanksgiving Day. He was not wearing his seat belt. He died two days later. Ramage was 18 years old.
“Everybody hurts when you don’t buckle up” is the ad’s main theme.
According to girlfriend Kristin Mogg, Ramage had taken his seat belt off when they stopped for gas.
“I didn’t know he didn’t put it back on and I wasn’t paying attention when I was driving,” Mogg said. “When I finally saw that he wasn’t wearing his seat belt we had already crashed, because he wasn’t in the car with me.”
According to his brother Conner Hogan May he arrived at the airport and learned the organ donor team was there. Conner asked what organs his brother needed.
“They told me he didn’t need any organs,” Conner said. “They are taking his because he is dead. I was getting information piece by piece and didn’t catch on until I got there.”
Mother Brandy Hogan said she will never see him again, talk to him, hang out with him, or hear his stories.
Ramage’s best friend Ed DeLany said that whenever someone drives with him, even though he is a good driver, he makes them put on their seat belts.
“I tell them I had a buddy go through a windshield and he didn’t make it,” DeLany said. “It’s a big responsibility.”
According to Mercer, JPD does not encourage underage drinking, but they do know it happens. A seat belt can protect a sober driver from a drunk driver, to some extent, and if anyone has consumed alcohol or taken drugs a responsible sober driver should buckle them up in the passenger seat.
“Be responsible enough to know that driving under the influence or not wearing your seat belt is not a good mix,” Mercer said. “Don’t blow a good thing you have going. You have just finished the school year. Don’t make a bad decision of getting into a vehicle with someone who is under the influence or not wearing a seat belt or driving too fast for the conditions.”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.