N.J. Begins Seat Belt Crackdown with Gov’s Crash on Minds

By | May 24, 2007

Milton Garcia angrily waved the $46 ticket he’d received for failing to wear a seat belt.

“There are people dealing drugs and killing each other,” the Trenton, N.J. resident said Monday morning from his white pickup truck. “That’s what they should be worried about.”

Like some of the other miffed drivers who received a seat belt citation during the kick off of the annual “Click It or Ticket” seat belt crackdown, Garcia pointed out that he’s not alone in failing to buckle up _ even the governor has made the mistake.

“It’s just not fair,” Garcia said.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s mistake cost him a lot more than the $46 dollar citation he asked police to give him following a near-fatal April 12 crash on the Garden State Parkway.

Corzine broke his leg, 11 ribs, collarbone and sternum and for more than a week breathed with the help of a ventilator in a Camden hospital.

Garcia knew Corzine acknowledged he often didn’t wear his seat belt while being driven around by state troopers, but didn’t receive a ticket until he asked for one following public criticism after the crash.

New Jersey traffic safety officials were unmoved by griping drivers, contending Corzine’s crash should serve as a lesson, not an excuse.

“I’d rather be inconvenienced today and learn a lesson about safety than be in an accident tomorrow and wish I had worn my seat belt,” said Pam Fischer, New Jersey highway traffic safety division director.

The “Click It or Ticket” enforcement effort is slated to last until June 3.

Trenton police set up a checkpoint alongside the Sovereign Bank Arena, checking passing drivers and waving into an arena parking lot those who failed to buckle up. Sgt. Bernard Hill said a dozen tickets were issued in the first hour, with 85 percent of people wearing their seat belts.

“Wearing my seat belt was the last thing on my mind,” Trenton resident Thomas Verbeyst said after he got a ticket in the arena parking lot.

He was rushing to get to work, but noted Corzine didn’t get a ticket until he asked for one.

Corzine’s crash occurred as his state trooper-driven SUV was clipped by a pickup truck and slammed into a guardrail after going 91 mph in a 65 mph zone.

He has taped a public service announcement urging people to wear their seat belts.

Fischer noted Corzine’s driver, state trooper Robert Rasinski, was wearing his seat belt and received minor injuries in the Garden State Parkway crash.

AAA contends using a seat belt reduces the risk of death by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent for front seat passengers.

“I don’t understand why people don’t wear seat belts,” Fischer said.

The enforcement campaign is part of a national effort and is funded in New Jersey with an $800,000 federal grant to help 206 police agencies participate.

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