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Buckle up the kids _ someone's watching

A weeklong national enforcement effort begins to make sure parents are buckling up their children.

Beginning on Monday law enforcement officers will be on the lookout for vehicles carrying children not wearing seat belts. The emphasis will continue throughout America Buckles Children Up Week until May 29.

Under Florida law, police may stop a car and issue tickets for anyone 16 years or younger who is not secured in a seat belt. Drivers cannot be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt but can be ticketed after being stopped for another violation.

Sponsored by the Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign in cooperation with the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the mobilization is a nationally coordinated effort by law enforcement to protect children by cracking down on drivers who don't buckle up kids.

During the weeklong enforcement waves _ two per year, in May and November _ tens of thousands of officers from all 50 states step up enforcement of their state's seat belt and child passenger safety laws by setting up child safety checkpoints, conducting saturation patrols and sending the message that drivers who don't buckle up children will be stopped and enforcement action taken.

In the first wave in May 1997, 1,000 agencies from all 50 states participated. Now, after four waves, that number has climbed to more than 6,000 agencies, estimated to reach 99 percent of the U.S. population.

In the two years since Operation ABC Mobilizations began, the National Safey Council reports child fatalities have dropped by 12.3 percent.

Restraint use for children ages 0-15 has climbed from 65 to 75 percent. Restraint use among children ages 1-4 has jumped even more dramatically from 60 to 87 percent.

Adult seat belt use rose from 62 percent to 70 percent _ the highest use rate ever _ with 19-million more Americans buckling up, according to NSC.

Fines are $46 for adults and children 6 and up who are not wearing seat belts. The fine for children 5 and under who aren't wearing seat belts or who aren't in child seats is $80, and the citation includes three points against your license.