KINGSPORT - Seat belts and sobriety are the focus of traffic officers this year in an effort to get more people to buckle up and reduce drunken driving.
Kingsport Police Department Sgt. Joe Earles said the traffic squad will continue the monthly seat belt checkpoints it started in 2006 to help keep vehicle occupants safer in the event of a crash.
Overall, seat belt usage increased, Earles said, although surveys at some locations of the checkpoints showed usage actually decreased.
Nonetheless, the checkpoints serve as an awareness campaign.
"Anytime we do a checkpoint we hope people will realize they are safer by using a safety belt," Earles said.
In the 10 seat belt checkpoints conducted in 2006, officers checked 4,608 vehicles, wrote 520 citations and made 10 arrests.
Earles said the arrests ranged from driving on a revoked or suspended license to people with outstanding warrants.
Officers also conducted eight sobriety checkpoints throughout the year and checked 3,207 vehicles, wrote 157 citations and made 17 arrests. Not all of those arrests were DUI charges, he said.
In 2006, the city saw a drastic decrease in the traffic fatality rate - eight in 2006 which followed 20 in 2005 and 21 in 2004 - and Earles said he hopes the department's efforts can take the number even lower.
"Beefing up the traffic squad and traffic enforcement has definitely had an effect on the way people drive," Earles said.
Aside from the 12 scheduled seat belt checkpoints, Earles said there are four sobriety checkpoints on the calendar, but he hopes to do more.
One of the limitations for the checkpoints is the money needed to pay officers overtime to be at the site.
Last year, the KPD had leftover traffic enforcement grant money it could apply to the checkpoints, which allowed the department to conduct eight.
But for 2007, Earles said those extra dollars likely won't be available.
The city has not officially released traffic crash statistics from 2006, but that likely will be available soon in the department's annual report.