Teachers, students -- and even parents -- who arrived as usual at Francis Scott Key High School yesterday morning received an unexpected, if not costly, lesson in seat belt safety.
Tfc. Jamie Green and Tfc. Wesley Lutz were stationed in the school parking lot, on the lookout for seat belt violators in a pilot program aimed at drivers and passengers coming to and from Carroll County's five high schools.
"I'd rather write no tickets and see everyone wearing their seat belts," Green said, shortly after arriving about 7 a.m. with ticket book in hand.
Over the next 45 minutes, the troopers cited a dozen seat belt violators, including four adults whose young passengers were unbelted.
Maryland law requires everyone in the front seat of a vehicle and anyone younger than age 16 in the rear seats to buckle up.
The program, a cooperative effort by state police and Carroll Resources to Advance Safer Highways, was instituted in the wake of three teen-age fatalities in two years in Carroll County.
Those deaths were directly attributed to the teen-agers' failure to wear seat belts, said 1st Sgt. Dean Richardson, a state police spokesman at the Westminster barrack.
State highway officials said 458 people died in accidents on state roads in 1998. Of that number, 210 were wearing seat belts and 248 were not.
According to Carroll County officials, nearly 87 percent of car drivers wore seat belts during six hourlong surveys conducted last summer. Only 81 percent of front-seat passengers were belted in those same surveys.
Surveys conducted last fall of high school students leaving five county schools showed that an average of 78.7 percent of the students were wearing seat belts.
Raising the percentage of seat belt users was yesterday's primary goal.
"It doesn't matter what gets them to use their seat belts, as long as they do," Green said, waving over an unbelted girl in a pickup for his first violator of the day.
Green, who graduated from Francis Scott Key in 1992, estimated he cites an average of five unbelted drivers a month. He said he was pleased to see yesterday's early arrivals -- parents and children -- were buckled up.
"At least the parents are giving good example to their kids," he said.
"They I guess I opened my mouth too soon," he said, waving over a man and his son in a white Chevrolet at 7: 25 a.m. Neither was belted.
Green could have given the driver a $25 ticket and a $48 ticket for allowing the boy to ride unbelted.
"I cut him a break and just cited him for the unbelted passenger," Green said.
At 7: 29 a.m., Green stopped another vehicle, telling the driver to buckle up and waved her on.
"Her car had historic plates and the seat-belt law exempts historic vehicles," Green said.
At 7: 41 a.m., a Plymouth arrived. The driver was belted. His 16-year-old female passenger was not.
Green wrote her a ticket and did not cite the driver.
"She said she had just unbuckled, but I saw them turning in and she wasn't wearing it then," he said.
Troopers will continue monitoring county high schools before and after classes on a random basis, Richardson said.
"We may take it to middle and elementary schools, too, looking for the adults who drop off the younger students," he said.
Francis Scott Key Assistant Principal Allan Abbott said school officials were aware of the seat belt crackdown but that they welcomed it. He said he was glad the number of drivers cited was low.
"That means the majority of our students and staff are using their seat belts," Abbott said. "If there's a greater chance of saving a life by wearing a seat belt, it's just good sense."
Those cited yesterday were understandably upset, but did not complain to the troopers.
"Some are agitated until they hear that they are receiving a $25 payable ticket and they won't be getting any points on their driving record," Green said.
The troopers estimated seeing another 10 violators who slipped by while they were writing tickets.
"I had five lined up at one point and didn't want to create a traffic hazard," said Lutz, who in December saw firsthand what not wearing a seat belt can mean.
"I handled an accident on Route 97 at Route 32 [south of Westminster], he said. "The guy wasn't buckled up. He's still in a coma and almost lost his arm.
"There's no question his injuries would have been less severe if he had worn his seat belt."