The Glendale Police Department, recognized as a leader in promoting and enforcing California's mandatory seat-belt law, will soon begin a federally funded safety-belt education program for other law enforcement agencies.
"We've asked Glendale because we needed an agency that would be willing to try and promote Glendale-like behavior throughout the Los Angeles area," said Al Crancer, California program coordinator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
NHTSA last month offered Glendale $195,000 to develop programs encouraging compliance of the seat-belt law among both law enforcement personnel and the public. The City Council voted unanimously to accept the money Tuesday.
It was the only such federal grant offered to a Southern California law agency, Crancer said. A Northern California division of the California Highway Patrol recently received a $155,000 grant for a similar project.
"The theme is to raise the level of public seat-belt use by using law enforcement as a role model," said Brook J. McMahon, captain of the Glendale Police Department administrative services division. "The police departments themselves sometimes don't use their seat belts and it starts with encouraging them to use it first."
Under the yearlong program, which is expected to begin Oct. 1, $7,000 "mini-grants" will be given to each of 14 other Los Angeles County law enforcement agencies chosen by Glendale.
The Glendale Police Department will spend the remaining $97,000 to promote seat-belt use throughout the area and to pay the salary of a project coordinator selected by the NHTSA, McMahon said.
Glendale gained statewide recognition last year when it became the only city in Los Angeles County and among the few in the state to immediately enforce the mandatory seat-belt law that took effect Jan. 1, 1986. That law requires drivers and passengers alike to wear seat belts.
While most agencies offered motorists grace compliance periods of up to 60 days, Glendale police were busily writing citations the day the law took effect.
And despite some public criticism, the crackdown proved successful.
Within 30 days, compliance of the seat-belt law in Glendale climbed from 20% to 64%, among the highest rates in the state, Crancer said. Meanwhile, he said, the overall compliance rate in Los Angeles County remains worst in the state.
For example, last month only 44% of Los Angeles County drivers strapped on safety belts, while nearly 55% of San Francisco and San Diego drivers buckled up, according to NHTSA statistics.
Compliance is measured when police stop drivers for other violations and see whether occupants of the car are wearing the belts. Drivers cannot be stopped by police just for not wearing a seat belt.
Among the reasons for lower compliance in Los Angeles County is a lack of knowledge of the law, Crancer said.
"We're trying to increase seat-belt usage in Los Angeles to over 50%," he said.