Drivers told to belt up or face on-spot fines of £30 when caught
ALAN MCEWEN CRIME REPORTER
DRIVERS and passengers who fail to wear a seatbelt were today being hit with on-the-spot fines as part of a police blitz in the Lothians.
A mixture of high-visibility patrols and unmarked cars were leading a crackdown on seatbelt and speeding offences in the first move its kind in Scotland.
Police chiefs today pledged to take a "zero tolerance" approach on offenders who flout the law as part of Speeding Seatbelt Awareness Day.
Any drivers or passengers spotted without a seatbelt by the teams of specially-trained officers were to be slapped with a £30 fixed penalty fine.
All eight Scottish forces are taking part in the national operation, organised by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS).
It is the first of four such days which will be held between now and February 2007.
Chief Inspector Kenny Buchanan, from the traffic department, said: "We're not targeting specific places.
"We're going to take to the roads and just blitz it. We've had National No Speeding days and others with seatbelts, but this is the first time that all our resources will be directed at both offences. The two naturally fit together in terms of reducing injuries and deaths.
"There are some people who simply refuse to use seatbelts despite the risk to their own lives. We've often found that they cannot be persuaded and that's why we're not afraid to use the big stick here."
The latest safety drive follows the publication of new figures in January which revealed that Lothian and Borders Police failed to meet its targets for curbing road collisions over the past nine months.
Between April 1 and December 31 there were 29 fatalities, compared to 27 for the same period the year before.
The number of serious injuries also rose by 17 per cent to 390, from 334.
The combined figure is 15 per cent above the police target of limiting the number of people killed or seriously injured to 365.
Traffic police have been particularly disturbed by the rise in accidents in East Lothian and the Borders, with the main arterial routes through these areas, particularly the A1, causing concern.
Both road policing officers and specially trained community beat officers will be on the lookout today for drivers breaking speed limits or failing to use seatbelts.
The patrols were working alongside the Safety Camera Partnership during the operation.
Officers will pay particular attention to children who are not wearing seatbelts in vehicles.
Superintendent Phil O'Kane, of the force's traffic branch, said: "Sudden and violent death and horrific injury is a daily reality on our roads. Excessive and inappropriate driving speeds and failure to wear a seatbelt are a major cause of these daily personal tragedies. We want motorists to show that they can make a real difference.
"For at least one day, just think about the friends and relatives of those who have had their lives ruined because their loved ones have died on our roads."
Neil Greig, head of policy in Scotland for the AA Motoring Trust, welcomed the new crackdown.
He said: "Young drivers and van drivers tend to be the groups where seatbelts are not worn. We need to get the message out to make an impression on the hardcore of fatal accidents on our roads.
"Not wearing a seatbelt undermines all the safety features of modern cars such as airbags, crumple zones, anti-lock brakes and everything else.
"We often see fatalities when drivers are ejected from the vehicle."
The Government wants all police forces to push for a 40 per cent reduction in fatal and serious road crashes by 2010.