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A mother's plea: 'It's so simple - just click it'

Echo Press photo by Celeste Beam Members of local law enforcement, including (left to right) Osakis Police Chief Mark Gilson, Sergeant Brad Brejcha, Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, Chief Deputy Brad Lake, and Alexandria Police Sergeant Larry Dailey took part in a "Click It or Ticket" news conference last Friday.

Between 2006 and 2008 in Douglas County, 21 motorists were killed.

Of those 21, five were not wearing their seat belts. And another eight, who were also unbelted, were seriously injured.

Statewide, over the last three years, data shows that 1,096 motorists were killed in crashes on Minnesota roads. Nearly half of those motorists - 518 - did not have their seat belts buckled. Additionally, another 1,151 unbelted motorists were seriously injured.

Those are just a few of the statistics shared by Sergeant Larry Dailey of the Alexandria Police Department at a news conference Friday morning kicking off the "Click It or Ticket" campaign.

Local law enforcement agencies will conduct enhanced seat belt patrols running May 18 through May 31 as part of a statewide Department of Public Safety "Safe and Sober" effort.

Although a seat belt violation can initially cost a motorist $25, costs can run as high as $115 with court and administrative fees, according to Dailey.

Officers from the Alexandria Police Department and the Osakis Police Department, as well as deputies from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office attended the meeting.

Those in attendance not only heard from Dailey, but also from Brandon Chaffins, Douglas County Sheriff's Office; Crystal Hoepner, Douglas County Public Health and a member of the Safe Communities Coalition; and Loni Kjos, whose daughter, Kelsey, lost her life in a car crash in 2004.

While Dailey and Chaffins provided some sobering statistics and noted that there are stories all around the state of those who lost their life because they weren't buckled up, Kjos noted that her family, unfortunately, has their own story to tell.

In 2004, 17-year-old Kelsey lost her life after the vehicle she was riding in left a curve and rolled into the ditch. She was ejected because she wasn't wearing her seat belt. She was pronounced dead after being airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital.

"We deal with her absence on a daily basis," Kjos said, noting everything in Kelsey's life that will be missed - getting married and having her father, Dave Kjos, walk her down the aisle or having her own children.

Kjos said her family deals with the realization that "if only" Kelsey had been wearing her seat belt, she would be here today.

"I don't know why she didn't," said her mother, who noted that Kelsey was the one to make sure everyone always had their seat belt on, including herself. She always wore it, added Kjos.

She noted that Kelsey's death falls into the familiar statistics - she was a teenager, she was a passenger in a vehicle with a young, inexperienced driver and her crash happened within two miles of their home.

Kjos couldn't stress enough the importance of using a seat belt. She urged everyone to take advantage of the life-saving device that is in every car.

"Just click it, click it," she stated. "It's so simple. Just click it."

Kjos also encouraged the public to use their voices to contact state legislators to try and get a primary seat belt law passed, which would make it legal for law enforcement officers to pull someone over for not wearing a seat belt.

"It's time to recognize it can't be choice. It has to become a law; a necessity," Kjos said. "Just click it. Everybody. Everywhere. Every time."

Sergeant Dailey shared some other statistics with the group, including that 60 percent involving a fatality happen between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.

In the past three years, 117 teens between the ages of 16-19 died in car crashes. Of those who died, 53 were unbelted.

Deputy Chaffins noted that 70 percent of the state's crashes happen on rural roads and that statistics indicate that young males who drive pickup trucks have the lowest percentage of seat belt use.

He also said that if a pickup is involved in a crash and it rolls over, it is almost certain anyone not wearing a seat belt will be ejected and death will occur.

The upcoming Click It or Ticket campaign, according to Dailey, boils down to saving lives and getting people - every time, every ride - to buckle up.

"Increased seat belt patrols are essential to preventing needless tragedies," said Dailey. "But enforcement can't save lives alone. Every motorist should insist their passengers buckle up to ensure a safe ride."