Sgt. McKee buckles down in D.C.
By Fran Odyniec
Sgt. Dale McKee of the Plain City Police Department was recently summoned to Washington, D.C.
McKee, who heads up the village’s annual “Click It or Ticket” seat belt campaign, was part of an eight-man expert work group charged with developing a protocol for secondary states to maximize seat belt use. The group consisted of law enforcement personnel from Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Ohio.
“They’re all secondary states,” he pointed out. “That’s why we were there.”
McKee was nominated by the local National Highway Traffic Safety Administration district office to represent Ohio based on his Click It or Ticket campaign in Plain City.
“I was the smallest agency there,” he laughed.
Regarding seat belt usage, a secondary state is one where by statute officers cannot write a ticket for non-usage unless there is first probable cause. Translated that means a motorist has to be stopped for some other violation, such as speeding, before he or she can be cited for not wearing a seat belt. Eighteen states, including Ohio, are classified as secondary states. New Hampshire is the only state in the Union that has no seat belt ordinance.
Working in two all-day sessions at the headquarters of the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the eight representatives first gave presentations on their individual safety belt usage campaigns. Then with NHTSA officials, they reviewed each of the campaigns and began to brainstorm ideas to develop a seat belt protocol.
“We all use education and awareness as well as enforcement,” said McKee, of the eight agencies’ basic approaches to seat belt use enforcement, although each campaign has its own particular strategy.
His Plain City campaign, which had its second annual run up to and during the recent Memorial Day weekend, focuses on education and awareness.
“This works better in our town due to the smaller population,” he said.
Through the use of local media (The Plain City Advocate in particular) and the dedicated participation of Plain City businesses, McKee spread the word about the benefits of seat belt usage. Businesses placed the “Click It or Ticket” message on their message boards or buildings, and gave out plastic litter bags; restaurants and bars used coasters — all reinforcing the “Click it or Ticket” message.
While he hasn’t as yet compiled any figures, McKee said that he has noticed an increase in seat belt usage throughout the village.
The Nevada State Highway Patrol emphasizes enforcement. Trooper Alan Kimbrell reported that he had issued more than 1,000 citations during the last year. In some cases, those citations went to repeat offenders who were obstinate in their refusal to use their seat belts.
Typical of their reactions was, “I haven’t worn it, and won’t ever wear it.”
One of those who abides by that opinion was ticketed five times after traffic stops for probable cause.
In one sense, Robert Ticer, the chief of police in Avon, Colo. (population about 17,000) took the bull by the horns.
“He went to the city council and had violation of the local (secondary) seat belt law changed to a primary offense,” McKee said. “Avon is now the only city in Colorado that makes it a primary offense.”
In 2011, the Avon Police Department wrote 300 seat belt citations.
“Our goal is to develop innovative law enforcement strategies for implementation in secondary law states to result in increased seat belt use rates to reduce unbelted fatalities,” explained McKee, of the group’s efforts. He is a 17-year veteran of the Plain City Police Department. “As a father and a police officer, I can see what happens when you don’t wear a seat belt.”
That concern comes from, as he puts it, “seeing people in crashes thrown from cars. How easy is it to put on a seat belt? It’s probably one of the best ways to save a family or a friend’s life. Tell them to buckle up.”
The expert group identified five key areas it feels area critical to reducing non-seat belt usage:
• Operational issues
McKee feels that leadership is the most important element.
“The department’s leader has to support your efforts,” he said. “Otherwise you get nowhere with the others. Chief Hill gives us his support here in Plain City.”
According to the NHTSA, about 45 million Americans still risk their lives by failing to regularly buckle up when driving or riding in motor vehicles. Men are less likely than women to buckle up. For example, in 2008, 60 percent of male passenger vehicle occupant fatalities were unrestrained, compared to 45 percent for females.
As its next step, NHTSA has taken the input from the two-day session with its expert group and developed a draft of a recommended program for those “secondary” states.
McKee had already received his copy last week, and is in the process of reviewing it to make any revisions or additional recommendations.
He feels that being part of such a unique group is gratifying to himself but far more important to his department and other departments.
“I want to continue to make everybody in our department see how important seat belt usage is,” McKee said of his findings during the expert group’s work sessions in Washington.
That also includes the residents of Plain City and surrounding areas.