New grants help enforce seat belt law

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By MIKE MORRIS

You might want to buckle up when driving through the foothills this fall.

About $12,200 in state grants has been awarded to the Sonora and Angels Camp police departments so officers can ticket drivers who don't wear their seat belts or fail to secure their children in safety seats.

The seatbelt crackdown comes during a year when 44 people have died in Calaveras and Tuolumne county traffic accidents. Thirteen of those people were not wearing their seat belts.

The grants work like this: The California Office of Traffic Safety gives cities money so they can afford to pay officers overtime. During overtime hours, the officers work solely on finding people who do not have their seat belts on or do not have children properly secured in car seats.

Sonora was able to apply for a $10,000 grant and got $7,200. The smaller city of Angels Camp was allowed to apply for $5,000 and got $4,992.

Both departments will start the extra enforcement the week before Thanksgiving and must use the money by the end of the year. Seat-belt tickets range from $32-$67 in Tuolumne County and $34-$65 in Calaveras County.

Sonora Police Chief Duane Ellis said the program aims to encourage people to wear their seat belts, but, "If it takes a ticket, it takes a ticket."

According to California Highway Patrol statistics, of the 27 fatal crashes that occurred on Tuolumne County roads so far this year, eight people were not wearing their seat belts and 15 people were. Two of the people killed were pedestrians and the other two were riding motorcycles.

Ellis said seat belts were not an issue with the two fatalities within Sonora city limits this year because one was a pedestrian and the other was on a motorcycle.

Sherry Aguilar, 40, of Jupiter, died earlier this month, about a week after the motorcycle on which she was a passenger crashed into an SUV on Stockton Road. In April, Sonora resident Aimee Eaton, 27, died when a car hit her as she walked along Stockton Road.

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