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Seat belt, DUI crackdown begins

Police on both sides of the Mississippi River will have more
officers patrolling streets and highways in coming days to target
impaired drivers and those not wearing seat belts.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and several local police
agencies announced at a news conference Tuesday the merger of two
longtime enforcement campaigns known in Illinois as Click It or
Ticket and You Drink and Drive. You lose.

Iowa police also will begin running extra enforcement details under
the special Traffic Enforcement Program, also known as sTEP.

In Illinois the added patrols run from Nov. 12 to Sunday and in
Iowa from Tuesday through Monday. The Illinois campaign includes
more than 2,000 seat belt enforcement zones, 68 roadside safety
checks and almost 1,000 additional patrols at night.

While the DOT and police urge drivers to be safety minded while
traveling for the holidays – a time of year when traffic fatalities
often go up – the number of deadly traffic accidents is down again
in Illinois this year.

The DOT says Illinois is on pace to have fewer than 1,000 traffic
fatalities. Last year was the first time since 1921 that the number
dropped below 1,000.

Capt. Jeff Patterson of Illinois State Police District 7 in East
Moline said the state had 811 fatalities at this time a year ago
and is at 843 this year. He said the last local fatality in 2009
came in October, and there were no fatalities during the
Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

The most recent local Illinois fatality was a Halloween hit-and-run
accident in Moline that killed 40-year-old Dawn Murillo of East
Moline, who was trick-or-treating with her son.

Aaron J. Goodwin, 33, of Moline, is charged in connection with that
accident in Rock Island County Circuit Court. He faces four felony
counts, including leaving the scene of a fatal accident, two counts
of aggravated driving while under the influence of alcohol and
aggravated driving while license revoked.

Patterson cited a few possible reasons for the improved traffic
safety numbers.

“I think more and more people are putting their seat belts on,” he
said. “The cars that are being built are safer.”

Still, Thanksgiving Day and the following weekend have
traditionally been quite dangerous. In Illinois the number of
people injured in accidents during the four-day stretch has ranged
from a low of 806 last year to a high of 1,257 in 2003.

“It’s a time (of year) when we can forget that risky driving
behavior can kill,” Dan Wood of the DOT said. “Even one death, as
everyone knows, is too many.”

Patterson said traffic enforcement, particularly focusing on seat
belt use and drunk drivers, is a top priority for Illinois State
Police all year. During the holidays, those offenses, along with
inattentive driving and failing to use child safety seats, can
result in more fatalities.

“Remember, the best defense against an impaired driver or
distracted driver is using a seat belt,” Rock Island Police Deputy
Chief Jeff VenHuizen said.

“Our goal is to not lose any lives this Thanksgiving holiday,” Wood
added.

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