During the early morning hours of Monday, Nov. 15, Searsport police officers either ticketed or warned seven drivers for not wearing their seat belts.

Searsport Police Chief Dick LaHaye said seat belt violations are quite common in his community, and drivers across the country are no different. That’s why the Searsport Police Department is participating in a nationwide effort to crack down on drivers who don’t buckle up during the upcoming holiday season.

“Every day at a predetermined time, we will be somewhere in Searsport for the next two weeks,” LaHaye said of the planned seat belt checks.

According to a press release from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the goal of the “Click it or Ticket” initiative is to get more drivers to wear their seat belts for every trip, whether it’s day or night, and particularly during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The NHTSA reminds drivers that seat belts are “the best defense against crash-related injuries and fatalities.” The agency also included statistics to drive home the importance of buckling up, including:

• In 2008, seat belts saved an estimated 13,250 lives. An additional 4,152 lives could have been saved if seat belts had been used at the time of the fatal crashes;

• Research has shown that when lap and shoulder belts are used properly, the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants is reduced by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to serious injury is reduced by 50 percent;

• During the 2008 Thanksgiving holiday travel season spanning Nov. 17 to Dec. 1, 2008, 1,120 passenger-vehicle occupants were killed in car accidents nationwide. Of those, more than 50 percent were unrestrained at the time of the crash, and;

• During the 2008 Thanksgiving holiday weekend alone — Nov. 26-Dec. 1 — 231 passenger-vehicle occupants were killed in car accidents nationwide between the hours of 6 p.m. and 5:59 a.m. Of those, 67 percent were not wearing seat belts at the time of the accident.

Lt. David Tripp, Troop Commander for Maine State Police Troop D, said drivers and passengers should be on the lookout, as troopers will be out in force in Waldo, Knox, Kennebec, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties to make sure travelers buckle up.

While seat belt use is at a record high of 85 percent nationwide, Tripp noted that 45 million Americans still fail to buckle up. Statistics from NHTSA show that on any given day about 38 passenger-vehicle occupants who are not buckled up are killed in motor vehicle crashes.

NHTSA statistics also show that those least likely to buckle up are teens, young adults, males, nighttime riders, motorists traveling on rural roads and individuals traveling in pickup trucks.

“These enforcement details are geared toward compliance, as well as decreasing serious injury or fatal motor vehicle crashes,” said Tripp.

Lauren Stewart, director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, said a task as simple as buckling your safety belt could not only save lives, it could also save drivers money during the holiday season.

“No one wants to start the holiday season off by receiving a ticket,” said Stewart. “Save your money for turkey and buying presents for loved ones — don’t throw it away simply because you failed to buckle up.”

In Maine in 2009, Stewart reported that there were 50 unbelted fatalities.

For more information about the holiday seat belt enforcement effort, visit trafficsafetymarketing.gov.