Steamboat Springs In 1999, 33 children between the ages of 6 and 14 died in car accidents in Colorado. Of those who died, 20 were not wearing seat belts.
Such statistics are alarming. Perhaps even more powerful is when such a death occurs nearby, as happened Sunday when a 12-year-old Loveland boy was killed in an accident in Routt County.
Josh Johnson was killed after being partially ejected from a sport utility vehicle that flipped on County Road 14.
Of the six passengers in the green 1997 Land Rover Discovery, five were wearing seat belts and lived. Johnson was the only occupant in the vehicle not strapped in.
"It devastates me when a child is lost in a car accident," Routt County Sheriff John Warner said. "This could have been avoided all with a simple click."
Colorado State Trooper Brad Keadle, who investigated Sunday's accident, agreed.
Colorado law enforcement agencies this week are teaming up with the Colorado Department of Transportation to increase seat-belt enforcement.
The Colorado State Patrol and the Routt County Sheriff's Office are two of 63 agencies working overtime to enforce Colorado's seat-belt laws. The stepped-up enforcement will end Saturday night.
The sheriff's office and the state patrol will have extra officers on the road enforcing the law and taking a zero-tolerance stance toward violators.
"If you don't have a seat belt on, you are going to get a ticket," Warner said.
In Colorado, an officer has the power to stop a vehicle when any person 15 or younger is not properly restrained in a seat belt or a car seat. The minimum fine for this offense is $56.
An officer cannot stop a car filled with adults for a seat-belt violation. The law is a secondary offense, meaning a driver must be stopped for another offense. The minimum fine is $17.
What happened to Johnson is all-to-familiar on highways across the country, according to an initiative that promotes seat-belt safety for children.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for children ages 6 to 14, Operation ABC Mobilization reports. More than 2,000 children die in traffic crashes each year. The statistics the initiative has compiled for adult fatalities in the state are similar. In 1999, there were 446 deaths because of traffic crashes. Of those who died, 271 were not wearing seat belts.
"The ones who get killed or seriously injured are the ones who get ejected from the vehicle," Warner said.
Local authorities will focus on seat-belt use among children and their parents. According to CDOT, children ages 4 to 15 use a seat belt 43.8 percent of the time, the lowest use of any group surveyed in the state.
Infants and toddlers ride in car seats at the rate of 79.3 percent. State surveys put adult seat-belt use at 65 percent.
The state patrol and the sheriff's office are able to participate in this week's enforcement because of funds CDOT provides, Warner said.
"I have deputies sign up for the overtime," he said. "This will not impact our normal shifts. CDOT gives us added funding to supplement seat-belt enforcement."