DPS Trooper talks seat belt safety during enforcement period - Tucson News Now

DPS Trooper talks seat belt safety during enforcement period

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

When Alejandro Espinoza climbs into his patrol car, he is already on the lookout.

"It's like any other day, but there's an emphasis on it," he said, talking about extra seat belt and child safety seat enforcement scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.

It didn't take long for the 2-year Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper to lock eyes on the clicking problem.

"Especially when it comes to seat belts. You just know what to look for after a while," he said, explaining driver habits and behavior. "I've seen it from where they're with their hands on the wheel, looking forward, and no eye contact, to waving or making too much contact. That draws my attention."

When that squad car siren goes on, he hears every excuse imaginable from drivers not wearing their safety restraint.

Tucson News Now was granted a ride-along with the DPS trooper and overheard multiple reasons for drivers not wearing a seat belt, including "not feeling good" and that the seat belt was "choking" a female driver. 

Espinoza informed her that wearing it underneath her shoulder was improper use and still a violation.

But it took Espinoza catching them for something else, a primary offense, to drive that seat belt safety message home. 

The state of Arizona presently conducts enforcement under a secondary seat belt law, according to a news release by the Tucson Police Department. This Memorial Day weekend enforcement campaign is based upon high visibility traffic enforcement with a “zero-tolerance” approach towards seat belt and child safety seat usage. 

The release stated that when worn correctly, seat belts have proven to reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about 50 percent. 

Changing seat belt laws from a secondary to a primary violation would, "ease some headache and frustration," Espinoza said.

"I tell them, 'Look, I have experience. I've seen rollovers where people walked out because they were wearing their seat belt.'"

That experience is no match for the man who trained him. During DPS Trooper Mike Diaz's 23-year career, he saw child safety seat laws go from a secondary offense to a primary violation.

The proper and consistent use of child safety seats has been found to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers in passenger cars, according to officers. Properly installed booster seats reduce the risk for serious injury by 45 percent among children ages four to eight years old.

"More than likely, something drastic happened," Diaz said, talking about why the severity of the law changed.

Diaz is hoping to see a change to Arizona seat belt laws soon, and thinks it would take the public reaching out to local and state lawmakers to make the legislative adjustment.

He said he's tired of having to inform families of a drastic, avoidable death.

"The first thing that people do, is they get emotionally upset. But then the question comes up: What happened? I remember one in particular the gentleman
asked, 'Was he wearing a seat belt?' And I said, 'No.' He said, 'Why?' I said, 'I don't know. I don't know, but I wish he did.'"

This latest seat belt and child safety seat maximum enforcement period, specifically focused in Pima County, was from Friday, May 26 to Monday, May 29.

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