Undone during police operation

GETTING TOUGH Police officers speak to people not wearing their seatbelts during an operation yesterday in Hilsea. Pictures: Allan Hutching (14727-536)
GETTING TOUGH Police officers speak to people not wearing their seatbelts during an operation yesterday in Hilsea. Pictures: Allan Hutching (14727-536)

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ALMOST 100 people were caught not wearing their seatbelts in only five hours of a police clampdown on offenders.

The operation by Hampshire Constabulary started on Monday as part of a European-wide initiative to raise awareness of the dangers to drivers, their passengers and others on the road of not wearing a seatbelt.

FINED A van driver is caught out

FINED A van driver is caught out

During five hours of operation time, 151 people have been stopped in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight – 93 of them in Portsmouth.

With excuses such as not wanting to ruin a tan or ‘my belt doesn’t fit me’, police officers have been busy in the city spelling out the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt.

Led by Sergeant Rob Heard, Hampshire’s road safety officer, police have been handing out £100 fines or giving people the chance to complete an education training course.

Sgt Heard said: ‘Nationally, 95 per cent of people wear their seatbelts but we are trying to clamp down on that five per cent that don’t.

EYE OUT Sergeant Rob Heard

EYE OUT Sergeant Rob Heard

‘Until Sunday, we will have officers in Portsmouth and other major cities looking out for drivers, passengers, children – anyone who isn’t wearing a seatbelt.

‘They will be given a £100 fine, the chance to complete a referral course or they can choose to go to Magistrates’ Court where the maximum sentence for not wearing a seatbelt is a £500 fine.’

The News joined the police yesterday for an operation in Northern Parade, Hilsea.

In 90 minutes, 16 vehicles were stopped and 30 people were given fixed penalty notices.

Sgt Heard was joined by Fratton Road Policing officers, all based at Fratton police station, who were administering the fines.

On Monday, 47 people were stopped in Portsmouth for not wearing a seatbelt, with an additional 12 other driving offences also spotted and dealt with by police. On Tuesday, 16 people were caught not without a belt on, with 11 other offences seen.

Since 1983, it has been a legal requirement for drivers and front-seat passengers to wear a seatbelt.

‘There are a few exceptions for people in certain circumstances but for the vast majority it’s essential they belt up to stay safe and avoid a hefty fine,’ added Sgt Heard.

‘The exceptions can range from a driver who is reversing, to a goods vehicle which is making delivery stops fewer than 50 metres apart.

‘But anyone else needs to wear their seatbelts.’

The most common excuse that officers hear for not wearing a seatbelt is that the driver forgot or that it is the first time they have not worn it.

But the campaign is ignoring these excuses to make the roads safer.

Sgt Heard said: ‘Drivers need to know the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt.

‘Around 50 per cent of road fatalities could be avoided if people are wearing their seatbelts.

‘So this whole campaign is about raising that awareness.

‘For us, it is a great result when people say they have seen the campaign and think, “I best wear my seatbelt”.

‘But, it is awful when people say they have heard about the campaign and seen it, but still fail to belt up when they get into their cars.

‘People often think that travelling short distances or knowing the roads makes a difference but it doesn’t.

‘More people crash near their homes than any other areas.

‘We often find that people driving on dual carriageways or motorways put their belts on because they know they are travelling a longer distance.

‘But people in urban areas think they are just popping to the shops so don’t bother.

‘Also, they think if they have an airbag, that is enough. But the airbags only work as well if a seatbelt is being worn.

‘Wearing a seatbelt can be the difference between a major, life-threatening injury or a minor one.’

The seatbelt campaign is set to continue in Portsmouth until Sunday.

POLICE CATCH 30 PEOPLE DURING 90-MINUTE WATCH

IN A single operation, police officers caught 30 people without wearing a seatbelt.

Yesterday, positioned in Northern Parade, Hilsea, three officers stopped 16 vehicles and 30 people who were spotted not wearing their belts.

The operation is part of a European-wide campaign that is raising the awareness of the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt.

During the hour-and-a-half session, 10 vans were stopped along with six cars.

For the offenders caught out, even with their reasons for not wearing their seatbelts, it was an automatic fine or referral course.

For one driver stopped yesterday, his reason was down to bad habit.

The 50-year-old, who was driving a work van, said: ‘Not wearing my seatbelt is a bad habit, a really bad habit.

‘It’s just laziness because I want to get home quicker.

‘In my own car, I always wear it but I just don’t in the van.

‘I don’t know why there is a difference but there is.

‘But the officers are doing their jobs by stopping me so I can hardly complain.’

In the same van was a 30-year-old male who did not want to be named.

He was also handed a fixed penalty notice and said he never thinks of the consequences.

He said: ‘There is always a risk but it’s one of those things you never think about.’

For another driver, a 24-year-old from Southsea, the short distance travelling was his reason for not belting up.

He said: ‘I was only driving from Cosham to the Mountbatten Centre, in Stamshaw.

‘It was such a short distance, I didn’t think about putting my belt on.

‘I am aware of the risks for not wearing one, but I never really think about them.

‘I guess you just think “it’s never going to happen to me”.’

Out of the 30 people stopped yesterday, all of the offenders were men.

But Sergeant Rob Heard, Hampshire’s road safety officer, said there is not one demographic for people caught not using their seatbelts.

He said: ‘We do not have one particular age range or gender that is more likely to not belt up.

‘And even if there are differences, they are slight.

‘For example, around 97 per cent of women will wear their seatbelt which isn’t much higher than the 95 per cent national average.

‘Also, the ages range quite significantly because you might have an older driver who learnt to drive and was driving for years before the new law came in 1983 which made it compulsory.

‘But we also get young people who just don’t buckle up so you never know who you’re going to catch.’

AN EVENING SPOTTING SEATBELTS

STANDING on the side of the road in the setting sun, I spent yesterday evening with police officers who are clamping down on people not using their seatbelts.

Set up on Northern Parade, in Hilsea, I was able to see the important work of Fratton Road Policing officers who are fronting the European-wide campaign to raise awareness for wearing a seatbelt.

The operation set out to spot the offenders, pull them over and administer a fixed penalty notice.

Within minutes of the start of the operation, I hear a voice on the police officer’s radio telling us the details of a van which has a driver and passengers not wearing seatbelts.

Once the officers spot the van and confirm it is the correct one, they flag it down.

Straight away, the men try to get their seatbelts on – and they aren’t the only ones trying the same trick that evening.

But the officers are one step ahead and already have evidence against them. For, up the road, there is a spotter who spends the operation looking into cars while on the pavement and checking seatbelts.

This officer, in seconds, has noted down the vehicle, time it was seen and the details of what he saw. Then he radios to the police officers who flag down the offending vehicle.

Before long, I too am looking into vehicles as they drive past and, with the sun slowly setting, it gets harder to see, especially if the driver is wearing black clothing.

But, in one and a half hours, the officers catch 30 people and issues them notices. Many accept the fines without complaint and don’t seem bothered about being pulled over.

Others look like they can’t believe their bad luck and are more shocked when they hear the fine is £100.

But the campaign is a much-needed one, especially when people say they just forgot because clicking in a seatbelt should be done automatically.

It has been more than 30 years since the law changed – but 30 people caught out in such a short space of time shows more awareness is very much needed.

MAN DIDN’T WANT TO RUIN HIS TAN

DURING the campaign to get tough on people not wearing seatbelts, police officers have heard some odd excuses.

Yesterday, during an operation at Northern Parade, in Hilsea, Fratton Road Policing officers were told by one driver caught out that he ‘didn’t want to ruin his tan’.

The motorist was spotted for not having a seatbelt fastened but, when pulled over, the topless man was found to be wearing one – but incorrectly. The belt was secured across his hips but the section that goes across the chest was tucked behind his arm.

Sergeant Rob Heard, Hampshire’s road safety officer, said: ‘The gentleman was pulled over because we thought he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. He did have one clipped in but not correctly and this can still be an offence.

‘When I questioned him, he told me “I didn’t want to ruin my tan”. It was one of the strangest excuses I have heard.’

Since the campaign started on Monday, Sgt Heard has also been told by an elderly lady that she’s never worn a belt.

He added: ‘We stopped an elderly woman who passed her test in the 1960s. She told me that she had not worn a seatbelt since then so why did she need to start? You could tell by the state of it that she hadn’t. It was cracked and stuck in place so I told her she would have to get it fixed so she could use it.’

Medical exemptions are also used as reasons but Sgt Heard, added that notes from doctors should be made and kept in vehicles. He also said for people who say they are too overweight to use a standard seatbelt, extenders can be purchased.

PAYING PRICE FOR OFFENCE

IT BECAME a legal requirement for drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seatbelts in 1983.

For people caught breaking the law, they can be fined up to £500.

Anyone not wearing a seatbelt will be served a fixed penalty notice and will have to pay a £100 fine or go on a referral course to learn about the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt.

But, they can also take their case to Magistrates’ Court and, if found guilty, be fined £500.

In 2006, the law changed again in reference to children and how they are secured in a vehicle.