Local law enforcement agencies are cracking down on seat belt use over the next few days as part of the 2013 National Click It or Ticket campaign, which kicked off Monday and runs through Sunday.
Last year, seat belt use reached 86 percent - up from 84 percent in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Use in the South jumped from 80 percent to 85 percent.
The Cape Coral Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff's Office have joined the Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies nationwide to focus on seat belt enforcement during Click It or Ticket in an effort to help prevent injuries and fatalities due to traffic crashes, officials reported.
Drivers and passengers who are unbuckled run the risk of being ticketed.
Since 2009, Florida's primary safety belt law requires all occupants to buckle up.
"Seat belts have saved thousands of lives and are one of the most effective safety tools in your vehicle," FHP Director Col. David Brierton said in a prepared statement released Monday.
In 2011, seat belts saved an estimated 11,949 lives nationally.
Motorists are 75 percent less likely to be killed in a rollover crash if they are buckled up.
In the fatal crashes from 2011, 77 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants who thrown from their vehicles were killed. Thirty-three percent of the crash victims who were unbelted were totally ejected from their vehicles, compared to only 1 percent of the victims who were unbelted, officials reported.
Of the 21,253 occupants killed in 2011, 52 percent were not wearing seat belts.
"Compliance to the seat belt laws save lives," LCSO Lt. Donnie Fewell said Tuesday. "The numbers are out there that show some people would still be here today if they would've had their seat belts on."
Deputies will specifically be on the lookout for unbelted motorists during Click It or Ticket.
"We won't be divulging the areas in Lee County (where) we will be doing those special enforcements, but we will be focusing on drivers and passengers alike," he said.
The CCPD will also set up operations throughout the city.
"We will be enforcing seat belt violations as strictly as possible," Sgt. Patrick O'Grady.
"It's going to be both day and nighttime," he added.
Nationally, 62 percent of the 10,135 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2011 in overnight accidents - 6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m. - were not wearing a seat belt, compared to 43 percent during daytime hours.
O'Grady noted that Click it or Ticket runs through the Memorial Day weekend.
"A lot of people are going to be going on vacation," he said. "So we want to make sure that while they're traveling, they'll be safe."
Cape Coral has seen an increase in serious bodily injuries and accidents so far this year.
During the campaign, officer will also check that children are properly secured.
"Child restraints and booster seats are very big with us," O'Grady said. "We don't want to see kids get hurt when they don't have to be hurt, because they're not wearing their seat belt."
To increase awareness about the importance of seat belts, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is inviting middle school students to submit suggestions for a new seat belt poster and calendar for 2014. Students are encouraged to submit ideas that will motivate others to buckle up.
For information on the Seat Belt Poster Contest, visit online at: www.flhsmv.gov.
To report an aggressive or impaired driver, dial *FHP (*347) on a cell phone.
"Please always remember to fasten your safety belt," Fewell said. "It will save your life."