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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Gainesville Police Department wants to keep a stricter lookout for people who don’t wear seat belts at night.

Because people are statistically less likely to wear seat belts at night, GPD is asking the Florida Department of Transportation’s Safety Office for a $37,800 grant to fund a nighttime seat belt enforcement program, said Sgt. Joe Raulerson of the GPD Traffic Operations Division.

The money will be used to pay officers overtime to patrol areas such as Archer Road and West University Avenue for those who are not wearing their seat belts early in the evening and late into the night. The overtime officers will patrol for seat belt violations at least one night a week, Raulerson said.

“We just want to have some extra eyes out there,” he said.

GPD plans to submit the grant request after city staff review the application.

The Florida Department of Transportation reviews grants in the summer. GPD will not know if the grant money is approved until fall at the earliest.

In Alachua County, a driver is fined $104 if the driver or the person in the passenger’s seat isn’t wearing a seat belt. In 2011, GPD wrote 1,748 tickets for seat belt violations.

Raulerson said there was no spike in seat belt violations or car crash fatalities that prompted him to apply for the grant. Instead, he got the idea during a conference a few months ago.

“For our size, the number of traffic accident fatalities is low,” Raulerson said. “But one is still too many, so we need to do everything we can to decrease them.”

Last year, there were seven traffic fatalities in Gainesville, according to GPD.

Raulerson said wearing a seat belt was the biggest factor in whether a person lived through those crashes.

University police strongly enforce the seat belt law on campus, said Sgt. Kristy Maculan of UPD.

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Maculan said UPD encounters a lot of students who don’t want to wear seat belts because the strap is uncomfortable or because they think it is not needed for short distances across campus.

“Statistically, people get into accidents in areas where they feel more comfortable,” Maculan said. “Distance doesn’t matter. It should be habitual.”

Contact Adrianna Paidas at apaidas@alligator.org.

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