Mississippians Not Strapping In

Celine Jenkins says just as it is to put her 8-month-old baby in his car seat, she too automatically straps on her seat belt when she gets in the car.

"I just separated from the military, so it's kind of habit," she says. "They drill it in to you, so when you get in you have to put the seatbelt on. It's not allowed on base and not only on base, but once you go through the gate you have to put your seatbelt, on so it's pretty much habit. I don't even think about it anymore, it's just automatic."

Law enforcers wish more people had the same attitude. A new study shows seat belt usage in Mississippi went from 58% in 1998 to 54.5% in 1999 and to 50.4% last year.

"What we have is a fairly new law that we passed, and when it was first passed there was no penalty and now it's a secondary charge," Highway Patrol Spokesperson Joe Gazzo said. "Until we step up and get a primary charge, then we won't have people belting up just for the simple reason that when you have a penalty more people are likely to comply."

Police say enforcing a secondary offense law is tough.

"That is the problem that we don't have a primary seatbelt law. We cannot stop people because they're not wearing a seatbelt," Biloxi Police Officer Mike Schaugher says. "We can only cite them for not wearing a seatbelt if they're stopped for some other violation. If it were a primary law, the seatbelt usage would increase drastically."

Most people know about the law, but officers say they either just don't care to wear a seatbelt, or they think they're safe enough without it.

The fine for failing to wear your seatbelt is $25.00.