By Keeli Parkey
As of Jan. 1, the fines for seat belt violations in the state of Tennessee will increase. According to state officials, the increase is a new tool meant to decrease the number of traffic fatalities in Tennessee.
Commissioner Bill Gibbons of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDOS&HS), Colonel Tracy Trott of the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer and Governors Highway Safety Office (GHSO) Director Kendell Poole announced the increase last week.
The increase, which more than doubles the cost of the fines, was passed by the State Legislature during its 2015 session. The fine for a first offense seat belt violation will be raised to $25 and the second and subsequent offense will be $50, according to the state.
So far this year, state troopers have issued over 107,000 seat belt citations, Gibbons said. That is a 255 percent increase over the same time period in 2010. We will continue to make this a priority, but we hope the day will come when it is difficult for a state trooper to find a motorist not wearing a seat belt. We hope the tougher fines will encourage motorists to obey the law.
Along with announcing the seat belt fine increase, the TDOS&HS also reminded drivers that THP officers will perform the annual holiday enforcement period at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 24 to midnight on Dec. 27. The THP will be out in force, the state announced, and will focus on traffic violations that place motorists in jeopardy, such as distracted driving, speeding, impaired driving and lack of seat belt usage.
According to the state, the holiday season is one of the deadliest and most dangerous times of the year due to an increase in impaired driving. The THP will utilize several enforcement tools, including saturation patrols, bar and tavern checks, and driver license and sobriety checkpoints to help reduce serious injury and fatal crashes over the holiday season.
We care about you and your safety, Colonel Tracy Trott said. What we are hoping to accomplish with the fine increase is a heightened sense of awareness among our motorists. The best safety tool that a driver or passenger has while riding in a vehicle is to wear his or her seat belt. When people fail to wear their seat belts, they increase their chance of being injured or killed in a car crash. Wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent death and serious injury in a crash. One life lost due to not wearing a seat belt is one life too many.
Designating a sober driver and not letting friends drive drunk are just two of the several simple steps to help avoid a tragic crash or an arrest for impaired driving.
Other important tips include:
Whenever you plan on consuming alcohol, designate your sober driver before going out and give that person your keys;
If youre impaired, call a taxi, use mass transit or call a sober friend or family member to get you home safely;
Promptly report drunk drivers you see on the roadways to the Tennessee Highway Patrol by dialing *THP;
Wear your seat belt or use protective gear on your motorcycle as your best defense against an impaired driver; and
Remember, Friends Dont Let Friends Drive Drunk. If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take the persons keys and help him or her make other arrangements.
We are very thankful for the friendships and partnerships that TDOT has with the Department of Safety and our state troopers, Commissioner John Schroer said. We understand that it takes all hands on deck to ensure a safer Tennessee, and the seat belt fine increase will help state troopers and local law enforcement in their efforts.
Also, TDOT will be suspending lane closures beginning at midnight on Wednesday, Dec. 23, until 9 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 4.
During the 2014 Christmas holiday, seven people were killed on Tennessee roadways in seven fatal crashes, according to the state. Alcohol was involved in 71.4 percent of those crashes, and three of the six vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts. There was also one pedestrian killed during the 96-hour holiday period.
Statewide sobriety and driver license checkpoints for the upcoming holiday are also available to be viewed visiting www.TN.Gov/safety.
The Unicoi County Sheriffs Department recently announced a schedule of sobriety checkpoints to be held in Unicoi County during the holiday season, including one around Wisemans on Unicoi Hwy, one on Hwy 81 South at Sawmill Road and one on Hwy 107 Sciota Road.
Also, through Jan. 3 the department is conducting extra patrols.