Originally created 11/22/05

Officials spread word on belt law



WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Department of Public Safety encouraged compliance with the new seat belt law Monday, taking its own advice on minority outreach by playing host to a community meeting at one of the area's major black churches.

Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, encouraged activists to "be a committee of one" to spread the word about the new law, which goes into effect Dec. 9, during a meeting at Brookland Baptist Church.

At a meeting with Hispanic leaders Friday, Highway Safety Director Max Young said he would encourage activists to spread the word through their churches as ambassadors of the department, as "we don't have the staff to do that ourselves."

Latrice Williams of Sunrise Enterprise, the company paid by the Public Safety Department to handle the public relations campaign, said that, like the effort in the Hispanic community, billboards, print ads and radio public service announcements were planned to reach out to the state's black residents.

Public Safety Director James Schweitzer also spoke at Monday's event, saying that South Carolinians can lower the state's traffic death and injury numbers "by working together and by understanding most importantly what the seat belt law means."

South Carolina is on track to break the state's all-time highway death toll record - 1,099 deaths in 1972 - should fatalities continue at current rates. As of Monday, the state had recorded 974 traffic deaths on state roads for 2005, compared with 906 at the same time last year. Of the 764 motor vehicle occupants who have died this year, 531 were not wearing seat belts.

The new law gives officers the authority to stop a vehicle simply because someone inside is not wearing a seat belt. It replaces South Carolina's secondary law, which meant officers could ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt only if the vehicle had been stopped for another violation.

The department experienced some snags during its first outreach event. On Friday, officials handed out and then took away materials intended to educate the Hispanic community after at least one person said "the whole card" was full of errors.

Some of the errors are just a difference of dialect, Mr. Young said Friday.

But one attendee said the problems are much more serious. Maria Arroyo, a parent educator with Lexington County School District 1, said Monday that, when she and other educators saw the cards, they "were very concerned" about the translation.

Ms. Arroyo, a native Spanish speaker who came to the United States from Ecuador 11 years ago, said the card was rife with misspellings and was missing many accents and punctuation marks.

Ms. Williams said the fliers had not been corrected as of Monday.

SOUTH CAROLINA HIGHWAY DEATHS

- 2005 as of Monday: 974

- 2004 (same period): 906

- State record: 1,099 in 1972

- Associated Press