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Back to Archives | Back to July 2004 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

By Steven R. Casstevens, Assistant Chief, Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Police Department, and Coordinator of the Illinois Traffic Safety Challenge

How many citations do law enforcement officers around the country issue each and every day for motorists not wearing their seat belts? Thousands. Why do we enforce belt laws? For one simple reason: they are the single best protection against injury or death in a traffic crash. Law enforcement officers should set the example by always wearing safety belts.

crushed police car (side)
Photograph courtesy Hoffman Estates Police Department
As officers on the street, we have heard all of the reasons why motorists choose not to wear their seat belts: They are uncomfortable. They wrinkle my clothes. I'm only going down the street. I just got back in my car. We don't listen to the excuses; we write the citations.

But many police officers still don't routinely wear their seat belts when driving their squad cars. We have our own excuses: The shoulder belt catches on my uniform. The lap belt could tangle on my weapon if I tried to exit the squad car quickly. Every officer should be wearing a seat belt every time he or she gets into a squad car for any reason.

Recently, Officer Paul Bartkowiak of the Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Police Department was glad he had made it a habit to always wear his safety belt while on patrol, even if he was merely sitting in his vehicle doing paperwork or running radar.

One afternoon in early May, Bartkowiak was parked in his fully marked black and white 2004 Crown Victoria on the median on Illinois Route 59. He was monitoring passing traffic when his vehicle was struck from behind by a 2004 Jeep Cherokee that was traveling an estimated 50 miles per hour. The impact crushed the entire rear end of the cruiser and forced portions of the trunk into the cruiser's back seat. There was no fuel leak or subsequent fire. Bartkowiak, who was wearing his lap and shoulder belt, was transported to the local hospital and treated and released a few hours later.

crushed police car (rear)
Photograph courtesy Hoffman Estates Police Department
Bartkowiak credits the seat belt with keeping him in position in the driver's seat and saving him from serious injury. "As the squad [car] rotated after the impact, I guarantee I would have been more seriously injured if I hadn't been buckled up" he said.

He is not alone. There are officers all over the country who can tell you their stories of being saved by the belt.

Officer Bartkowiak has been nominated for the Saved by the Safety Belt Award in Illinois. This renewed program, made possible through a partnership with NHTSA Region 5, the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Traffic Safety, and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, is demonstrating to the driving public in Illinois that seat belts do save lives.

When Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed primary seat belt enforcement into law in Illinois last July, he declared that this law would save 150 lives in Illinois in one year. Officer Bartkowiak is a living example.



From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 7, July 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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