Originally created 11/21/00

State kicks off seat belt checks



AIKEN - Trolley Line Road was crawling with uniformed police Monday afternoon - enough to make some motorists think they'd rolled into murder or mayhem.

They hadn't, but it was still something big. So big that every law enforcement agency in the state is working on it, and showing no mercy.

During the two-week campaign that started Monday, anybody not wearing a seat belt gets a ticket. No exceptions. No excuses. And no buckling up on the sly when the checkpoint comes into view.

The state is taking the Click It or Ticket campaign so seriously that between now and Dec. 3, it's expected to set up checkpoints at nearly 2,500 sites statewide, 70 of them in Aiken County. And before it's over, it will be the most massive mobilization of law enforcement in South Carolina history, barring natural disasters.

By the time officers got to Trolley Line Road on Monday afternoon, they'd been four other places. State troopers wrote 67 tickets for seat belt violations and three tickets for not using legally required restraints for children, said Sgt. Russell Pruitt, who tallied.

Figures were not immediately available for more than a half-dozen other law enforcement agencies assisting in Aiken County, but Lt. Tim Pearson of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety said there were plenty more tickets written.

Renee Milton of Aiken had the shamefaced distinction of getting the last ticket of the campaign's first day, and the 17th for no seat belt on Trolley Line Road. The first was an Alabama woman with a "Hottie" sticker on her windshield.

"Y'all just caught me," Ms. Milton said. It had been clear from a distance that there was no belt across her bright yellow sweat shirt, and she had to admit breaking her own rule.

She picked up a friend near where all the police were gathered, then rolled into the line of traffic, planning to buckle on the way, she said.

"I don't know what I was thinking about," she said. "I had a cousin who was killed in a wreck, and I have a 4-year-old who usually rides with me. I try to be careful, and I do have a habit of using my seat belt - most of the time."

Of the 864 people killed in vehicles on the state's highways last year, 485 were not wearing seat belts. Kicking off the crackdown in Columbia on Monday, Gov. Jim Hodges said getting tough might be the only way to make the 35 percent who don't use safety restraints think about the possible consequences.

First Sgt. J.T. Daniels finished the Trolley Line Road duty listening to a driver insisting it was his constitutional right not to buckle up.

In Aiken County, there will be five more checkpoints every day for two weeks.

But the governor said nobody should be blind-sided. The program was highly publicized, he said, with checkpoints announced.

Lance Cpl. Kelley Hughes, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said officers found more than seat belt violations Monday. One driver stopped in Lexington County had an outstanding warrant against him. And in Aiken on Monday, a belted driver had to call his dad for a ride; his driver's license had been suspended for drunken driving.

Reach Margaret O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.