Seat belts not 'clicking' with enough people

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) Heading into the new year, law enforcement urges people to make a resolution to buckle up.

2017 has been a dangerous and deadly year, especially in Brown County, where 10 people who were not wearing seat belts, died in traffic crashes. Captain Dan Sandberg, who heads the sheriff's office patrol division, believes many, if not all of those people, would have lived had they been wearing seat belts.

Through a national program, the sheriff's office is trying to figure out not only who's not wearing them, but why.

They think the answer lies in dollar signs.

Seeing images of smashed up cars only makes Captain Sandberg that much more persistent and passionate about getting people to buckle up.

Over the last year, he helped lead local participation in "Buckle Up Brown: Survive the Hit," a national pilot program recording seat belt habits in Brown County. Only four other communities in the country are also conducting the same research.

Sandberg doesn't like his results.

"You look at 83 percent, 82 percent, 86 percent," he says, pointing to a page of final statistics.

Deputies tracked seat belt usage in the same five locations, at the same time and day, once a month for a year.

The average compliance in Brown County came back at 84 percent.

That's less than not only Wisconsin, with an average of 88 percent usage, but it's also lower than the national average of 89 percent.

Our surrounding states? The Department of Transportation puts them all at 90 percent or higher.

The sheriff's office study compared genders, ages and even vehicle types.

It found higher compliance among women, 88 percent, than men at 81 percent.

Of all age groups, it found people 24 and younger at 78 percent compliance.

It also revealed those in pick up trucks recorded during the study were the least likely to buckle up at 71 percent usage.

"That's generally our lowest group, and our young people," says Sandberg. "The young people are just building that habit and that feeling of immortality."

But Sandberg believes there's another big factor.

He points to Wisconsin's $10 ticket, which comes with no points added against your license and no fees or court costs.

We compared it to our neighboring states that all have higher compliance.

We found penalties ranging from $25 in Minnesota and Illinois to $50 in Iowa and $65 in Michigan. But the big difference comes in extra fees and court costs, which double or triple those costs in other states.

"I think the penalty has to be worthy of the punishment," says Sandberg. "That's where we have the issues is when you have a $10 seat belt ticket. That, to me, is probably the biggest reason as to why those numbers aren't higher and would be higher."

The sheriff's office is looking at more enforcement and education during traffic stops in the new year, hoping to increase compliance.