County joins holiday sTEP effort

Law enforcement agencies across Iowa will be teaming up to enforce the state’s seat belt laws and keep drivers safe.

Known as the special Traffic Enforcement Program, the initiative is a part of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau and will be taking place from Monday through July 7.

Local agencies have participated in sTEP numerous times before, but this is the first time the Webster County Sheriff’s Department will be out helping with enforcement.

Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs said the sTEP enforcement is about keeping drivers safe.

“The intent of this is not to write citations,” Stubbs said. “We want to change the attitude of drivers so that they will use their seat belts.”

Though he didn’t cite specific statistics, Stubbs said data taken before and after the traffic enforcement shows a difference in how many drivers obey the law.

“Surveys are taken before and after the stepped-up enforcement,” he said. “It usually has a positive effect, and afterwards we see a high percentage of seat belt use.”

While the primary focus for law enforcement is finding people who don’t wear their seat belts, Stubbs said it’s not uncommon to find people who have other violations as well.

“We’ll find people without a driver’s license, OWIs, or a combination of other offenses,” he said.

Through the combined efforts of all law enforcement agencies, Stubbs said the goal is to reduce the number of fatalities across the state.

“The bottom line is that we want citizens to be safe on the roadways,” he said. “We’ve had fatalities this year and we’d just as soon lower them.”

Iowa Department of Transportation statistics recently revealed that there have been 38 fewer deaths this year when compared to the same time period in 2012. As of June 12, 2013, that total was at 117 fatalities.

Additional statistics revealed that 38.5 percent of those fatalities involved people who were not wearing seat belts.

While Stubbs said the data is moving in a positive direction, it’s still not enough.

“One hundred seventeen is 117 too many,” he said.

In a statement released by the Iowa Department of Public Safety, sTEP Coordinator Randy Hunefeld said the state’s seat belt law has saved lives. He added that the fine for getting caught without a seat belt is $127.50.

“If that isn’t enough to entice you to buckle up, how about increasing your chances of surviving a crash by 50 percent?” Hunefeld said in the press release. “Banking on not being involved in a crash is simply not good math.”