SOMERSET COUNTY, NJ – Somerset County Sheriff officers will join a statewide and national crackdown on motorists driving without seat belts over the next several weeks.

Several other municipal police forces in Somerset County will also participate in the Click It or Ticket Mobilization program.

The New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety in conjunction with the state Division of Criminal Justice and state Attorney General’s office awarded the Somerset County Sheriff  Department an $88,000 grant in conjunction with the national Click It or Ticket campaign in effect from May 23-June 5. Some of that money was distributed to various Somerset County police departments, according to Somerset County Sheriff Frank Provenzano. 

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Separate grants of $5,000 were also awarded to the Hillsborough Police Department and Franklin Township Department.

The funds are used for educational materials and to augment normal police patrols.

The high-profile campaign plays a critical role in the effort to keep people safe on the nation’s roads and highways.

More than 1,800 unbuckled drivers and front seat passengers have died on New Jersey’s roadways in the past 10 years, according to the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Click It or Ticket campaigns incorporate zero-tolerance enforcement of safety belt laws with paid advertising and the support of government agencies, local coalitions and school officials to increase safety belt use and defend against serious injury or death in traffic crashes.

Click It or Ticket gives motorists and their passengers an incentive to buckle up - the increased threat of a traffic ticket.

The fine in New Jersey is $46.

Somerset County Sheriff officers routinely serve warrants, transport prisoners for court appearances, provide security at the county complex and courthouse and staff the country jail in Somerville.

A portion of the grant will be used to pay overtime for the additional officers.

“Our guys will be out there,” Provenzano said.

Without specifying towns or locations, Provenzano expects to have five or six cars on the road during the campaign.

“We’ll schedule overtime details to go out and specifically target passenger vehicles for passenger restraint violations,” said Hillsborough Police Chief Darren Powell.

“Our primary focus is to educate the public,” he added. “Unfortunately, sometimes the best way to do that is through enforcement.”

Those who do get ticketed will also be given a handout from the state Division of Highway Safety that focuses on highway safety.

Powell said the additional patrols will work primarily from 6-10 p.m.

“We employ multi-unit details,” Powell explained. “We’ll  have a spotter and a team doing actual stops based on violations seen by the spotter; it’s the usual technique we use.”

“We’ll try and mix it up,” Powell added. “We’ll be moving around to different locations; we’ll use individual patrols with some multi-unit operations.”

New Jersey's seat belt usage rate currently stands at 91.36 percent, up from 87.59 percent in 2014 and the highest usage rate since the 94.51 percent that was recorded in 2011, according to statistics from the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

The New Jersey seat belt law requires all front-seat occupants of passenger vehicles operated in New Jersey to wear a seat belt. The motorist is responsible for all passengers under 18 years of age. Front-seat passengers 18 and over are responsible for themselves.

Non-compliance is a primary offense. A police officer can stop a motorist solely for a violation of the seat belt law. The law also expands the definition of passenger vehicle to include vans, pickup trucks and utility vehicles.

Under a secondary law, all back seat occupants, 18 years of age and older, are required to buckle up. Unbuckled back seat passengers can be issued a summons when the vehicle they are riding in is stopped for another violation.

In New Jersey, 372 police agencies participated in the May 2015 Click It or Ticket Enforcement Mobilization.

The following is provided by the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety:

- Studies show seat belts do save lives and reduce injuries during crashes.

- Seat belts work with air bags to protect occupants. Air bags alone are not enough to safeguard occupants.

- Seat belts saved over 12,500 lives during 2013 in the United States.

- Seat belt use in 2013 reached 87 percent, a significant increase form 84 percent in 2011 in the United States.

- In 2013, 21,132 occupants of passenger vehicles died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. Of the 21,132 total occupants killed, 9,777 were restrained. Restraint use was not known for 1,775 occupants. Looking at only occupants where the restraint status was known, 49 percent were unrestrained at the time of the crash.

- NHTSA has estimated that child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants (younger than 1 year old) and by 54 percent for toddlers (ages 1 to 4 years) in passenger cars.