Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Law officers start stricter holiday patrol

Local and state law enforcement officials from both sides of the Red River are starting their annual holiday-season push to get drivers strapped into their cars.

Local and state law enforcement officials from both sides of the Red River are starting their annual holiday-season push to get drivers strapped into their cars.

Representatives from the Minnesota State Patrol, North Dakota Highway Patrol, Cass, Clay and Otter Tail County sheriff's departments, Fargo, Moorhead, Dilworth and West Fargo police and Minnesota State University Moorhead police kicked off the annual campaign Tuesday with a press conference.

Moorhead Police Chief Grant Weyland said that from Nov. 25 to Dec. 8 his department will have 20 officers working 200 hours of overtime to catch drivers who aren't wearing seat belts.

Likewise, in Dilworth, Police Sgt. Barrett Chrissis said four officers will work 40 hours of overtime, much of that targeted on the Highway 10 corridor.

Weyland issued a warning for the estimated 47 percent of Clay County drivers who don't wear seat belts.


"Drivers can either buckle up or the pay the price, either in crash-related injuries or deaths or in fines for not wearing their seat belts," he said.

West Fargo Police Chief Arlen Rasmussen said increased enforcement can only go so far.

"This is truly a community effort," he said. "We'll be enforcing the seat belt laws and the drunk driving laws, but it takes the community to be involved."

Cass County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Argall said his department also will have extra officers out on seat-belt enforcement during the push.

"One of the things we're seeing right now in the rural areas, the seat-belt usage is a little higher on the high-speed roads," he said. "However, we're still seeing a decrease in usage in the city area. I think it's important that people understand that whether you're on a high-speed road or a city street, you can be injured or killed by not having your seat belt on."

Otter Tail County Sheriff's Deputy Jon Karger said his department will be working to even up seat belt usage across his county, which was 11th in the state in serious injuries and fatalities last year. Sixty-nine percent of drivers on the west side of the county belt in, but on the east side usage is 41 percent, he said. The difference is largely due to patterns of law enforcement coverage, he said.

Sgt. Ed Gruchalla of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said seat belt enforcement by his agency will be combined with the Dec. 13-14 "safe and sober weekend" in Fargo-Moorhead. Troopers will emphasize DUI enforcement on those days in an effort to drive down alcohol-related deaths, which account for 46 percent of traffic fatalities statewide.

In Fargo, Police Sgt. Ross Renner said seat belt use has increased from 55 percent to 60 percent, but the latest effort is aimed at boosting that closer to the national average of 75 percent.


Police said those who drive in rural areas with less traffic sometimes feel a false sense of security that can make them less likely to use seat belts. But the lack of traffic can be deceptive; Minnesota officials said that while 70 percent of the state's crashes are in urban areas, 70 percent of motor vehicle fatalities happen in rural areas.

Gruchalla said that while the Highway Patrol can't lobby the North Dakota Legislature, officials would like to see a primary enforcement seat belt law, meaning that drivers could be stopped merely for not being belted in. As it is, a seat belt citation can be issued only if the driver has been stopped for another offense. The same holds true in Minnesota.

In a separate press conference later Tuesday, North Dakota State Patrol Commander Jim Hughes and North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Dave Sprynczynatyk unveiled safe-driving public service announcements that will run on television in the state over the holiday season.

Hughes emphasized that seat belt use and avoiding drinking and driving are the most important steps people can take to stay safe on the roads.

His troopers will put in 660 hours of overtime on seat belt enforcement between Nov. 25 and Dec. 7 and another 612 hours of overtime between Christmas and New Year's, he said.

As it is throughout the area, overtime will be paid for with federal funds given to states for traffic enforcement.

Hughes said it shouldn't take a primary enforcement law to get people to use seat belts.

"There doesn't have to be a law to protect yourself," he said. "Do it without a law."


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

What To Read Next
Get Local