POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies begin their Click It or Ticket campaigns, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said it is not about writing citations, but about saving lives.
“You can’t unsee death from a car crash. It breaks my heart to see people die because they just won’t wear their seat belts. It’s like, ‘come on man, what are you thinking?'” he said during a ride-along Tuesday with News Channel 8.
His agency handed out 348 seat belt-related tickets in 2021.
“We may have stopped a lot more than that, but we stopped them for a primary offense of excessive speed and then warned them about not wearing their seat belt,” said the sheriff.
Records from the Polk County Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller show 4,918 seat belt-related violations were processed in 2019, a pre-pandemic time when more drivers were on the road.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for people aged 0-54.
Drivers are taught from the time they first get behind the wheel to buckle up.
“Sometimes we’ll leave our seat belt off to see if they catch that their passenger is not seat belted in also before they leave,” said Cheryl Giles.
Giles is co-owner of Lakeland Atlantic Driving School in Winter Haven.
She said if people do not buckle up at the start of their test, they instantly fail.
“The very first thing is they put on their seat belt before they even start the car,” said Giles.
Both Giles and Sheriff Judd shared stories of instances they have witnessed where a person could have survived a crash if they had been wearing a seat belt.
“He had been injected from the car, face down on the road, unfortunately, I know, he was deceased when I got to him,” said Giles.
“There were two people in the vehicle, the one that was seat belted, when the car rolled over, he got some bumps and bruises. The other one, who wasn’t seat belted, is now dead,” said Sheriff Judd.
Click It Or Ticket runs through June 5.
Seat belt violation fine vary from county but cost at least $100.