School is back in session and with the increased activity around school zones, awareness of seatbelt and child safety seat laws has local law enforcement officers urging McCulloch County residents to buckle up for safety. A recent nationwide Click it or Ticket campaign where participating law enforcement agencies publicize and pursue strict safety belt enforcement has been shown to produce effective results. According to the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey, seatbelt use has increased to 79 percent nationwide, an overall record high. According to NHTSA estimates, the increase in belt use this year will translate into more than 1,000 lives saved. In addition, the costs to society by fewer serious injuries will be reduced by at least $3.2 billion. Restraint use estimates are based on the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), conducted annually by NHTSA. The previous survey in June 2002 found nationwide belt use at 75 percent. The scientific survey is based on observations at 2,000 sites nationwide. Locally, law enforcement officers are emphasizing the importance of obeying the state law that requires seatbelt use. “We want people to know that we as a department are actively pursuing seatbelt enforcement,” said Brady Police Chief Tommy Payne. Recent observations by area schools have shown an alarming number of incidents of improper safety belt use by parents picking up their young children from school. According to Texas State Law, any child between the ages of 4 and 16 must be restrained in a seatbelt regardless of position in the vehicle. NHTSA recommendations are that all children under the age of 12 or shorter than 4’9″ ride in the back seat of any vehicle. “It is a criminal offense under Texas law for a person to operate a motor vehicle and transport a child younger than 4 years of age or less than 36 inches without a child safety seat,” said McCulloch County Attorney Ginger Treadwell.'”This offense is punishable by a fine of $100 to $400.”‘ U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced this week that 55 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) grants totaling nearly $7.5 million will be awarded to 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the four U.S. territories, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.’ The funds will help implement child passenger protection programs. “President Bush and I are committed to safety as the top transportation priority. We have seen great progress in protecting our country’s youngest children, whose safety this grant program addresses,” Secretary Mineta said. “These grants will help further educate parents about the importance of use and the correct installation of child passenger restraints’both crucial to a child’s safety should there be a crash.”‘ In 2002, fatalities for children ages 3 and younger declined by 5 percent and fatalities for children ages 4-7 declined by 12 percent from 2001.’According to NHTSA, despite this progress, too many children are improperly restrained. “About four out of five children who are placed in child safety seats are improperly restrained.’ Furthermore, adult safety belts do not adequately protect children ages 4 to 8 from injury in a crash.’ Although booster seats are the best way to protect them, the vast majority of children in this age group do not ride in them,” NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., said. “These grants will help states help parents transport their children safely.” A child safety seat program designed to teach parents the proper installation and use of child safety seats will be held later this year in conjunction with a program sponsored by the San Angelo Safe Kids Coalition. The exact date, time and location has yet to be determined.