A two-week statewide seat belt enforcement and education campaign begins Friday, and drivers in Independence, Maple Plain and Delano have no excuses for failing to buckle up.

In late August, three Delano High School students — Nathan Moe, Derek Spencer and Cameron Baker — painted images on driveway entrances and exits of businesses, churches and government centers in the three cities to prod motorists to strap themselves in before hitting the road. The teens borrowed stencils from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and spray painted the large visuals of hands fastening a seat belt with the words “Buckle Up!” under it at 17 highly traveled places around the towns, with permission of the establishments, of course.

“We wanted to make an impact on the community,” said Spencer, a junior who organized the effort as part of a National Honor Society community service project. “I think a lot of good things can come from it.”

So does Sgt. Rick Denneson of West Hennepin Public Safety.

“I hear the excuses from drivers who say, ‘I just left the Holiday and forgot to put it on,’ ” Denneson said. “I point out that was 3 miles back and they say, ‘I know.’ I hear all the excuses. The stencils will help remind people. It’s about getting people to do the right thing.”

Overall, Minnesotans do a darn good job at complying with the state law requiring drivers and passengers to be buckled up or seated in the correct child restraint. About 94 percent of drivers wear their seat belts, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety.

The effort by Spencer and crew is aimed at the 6 percent of motorists that don’t abide, and there’s a good reason for targeting them. About 40 percent of motorists killed in crashes aren’t buckled. That adds up to an average of 105 deaths and more than 200 serious injuries each year, the Office of Traffic Safety says.

Safety messages are especially poignant in the three west metro communities linked by Hwy. 12. The highway has earned the nickname “The Corridor of Death” for its high number of crashes and has become one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the state.

An audit by the state Department of Transportation last year found that the segment between Wayzata and the Hennepin-Wright County line sees three wrecks resulting in death or serious injury for every 100,000 vehicle miles traveled — or nearly twice the rate of 1.57 wrecks on similar two-lane highways in the state.

It also found that 40 percent of head-on crashes occurred in the Orono, Long Lake, Maple Plain and Independence areas. The latest occurred Sept. 15 when two people were hurt in a head-on wreck just east of Delano.

Stephanie Addicks said Lyndale Lutheran Church wanted the images painted on both of its exit lanes because the markings hit home with young kids and remind parents why they should do it.

Brad McKown, executive vice president of the Bank of Maple Plain, jumped at the opportunity to add the safety messages to the bank’s drive-through lanes and parking lot exits. Plus the bank’s driveway shares an entrance with a popular liquor store next door, so lots of people will see it, he said.

“You gotta drive over it four times,” he said. “There are no excuses for not seeing it and for not buckling up.”

Police issued 7,233 citations to motorists who didn’t wear their seat belt during a “Click It or Ticket” campaign earlier this year.

 

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