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State Police to set up seat-belt checkpoints

New York State Park Police Sgt. Mark Sanchez,

New York State Park Police Sgt. Mark Sanchez, right, and Officer Bridget Fhagen patrol the Jones Beach Boardwalk. (July 18, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Overloaded cars heading for Jones Beach this Saturday could be in for an unscheduled stop.

State Police will operate a checkpoint on a main road heading to the beach as part of a summertime initiative with state park police to improve proper child car-seat and seat-belt use.

The police agencies launched the education/enforcement campaign last month after park police noticed that, despite improved seat-belt compliance overall, use of seat belts and child restraints remains lower at state parks near urban areas, said State Parks Police Chief Richard O'Donnell.

"The law's been in place a long time and it's high time people who are drivers and parents realize that in the event of an accident, an unsecured child is really at risk of injury," he said.

Police first noticed increases in the number of tickets issued for car-seat violations, particularly during the summer, in the Hudson Valley's Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park in Westchester county and the Harriman State Park in Orange County, said O'Donnell.

On Long Island, O'Donnell said, state park police had historically not done as many checkpoints, "but we realized this is an issue whereever there's an influx of visitors in summer."

George Gorman, Long Island deputy regional director for state parks, said while the reports locally are anecdotal, parks staff on the Island also noticed "a considerable amount" of park visitors arriving in overloaded vehicles, especially at beachfront facilities. "Park attendance is up this year and so are overloaded cars," he said.

Lt. Robert Downs, State Police assistant zone commander covering Nassau, said, "We can only suspect it's because you pay by the carload to use a state park -- $10 a car," he said, referring to the entry fee that applies at all lifeguard-staffed state parks on Long Island.

The fee is $8 per car for other state parks unless drivers have an annual Empire Passport, which provides unlimited entrance and parking in state parks for $65.

At Saturday's checkpoint in Nassau, police, including a trained child safety seat technician, will stop cars and check that occupants are properly restrained.

But police also want to focus on driver education, with pamphlets and a number of car seats and boosters to give away if a motorist has an outdated, damaged or inappropriate child restraint, said Trooper Frank Bandiero, Long Island State Police spokesman.

"We will write tickets, for sure, but sometimes it's not all about the rules -- when it comes to adults wearing seat belts, that's pretty straightforward, but someone might say 'my 5-year-old's pretty small,' and child restraint rules can sometimes be unclear," Downs said.

The Nassau checkpoint follows several already conducted upstate this summer and more are planned, said Downs. A checkpoint that targeted the Lake Welch Beach area in upstate Harriman State Park for four hours one Saturday last month checked hundreds of vehicles for proper safety restraint use and compliance, with 197 tickets issued, 185 of them for child restraint violations.

State Police Troop L, headquartered in Farmingdale, provides car seat-fitting lessons by appointment one Saturday a month. "If parents or expectant parents can't make a Saturday, I can do it -- or another trained car seat technician trooper -- during the week," said Bandiero.Since April 1, local state parks have received more than half a million more park visitors as compared with the same period last year, predominantly at the beaches, Gorman said.

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