A third of all motorists stopped during a Northland police blitz were fined for not wearing a seatbelt, leaving officers disappointed and frustrated, but not surprised.

Another 30 tickets were issued to drivers who were nabbed behind the wheel using their cellphones during the four-day operation that wrapped up last Friday, aimed at cellphone users and those not belting up.

The results mirror the region's fatal crashes over the last two years. Of the 35 fatalities last year, 12 people were not wearing seatbelts and in 2017, of the 40 fatal crashes, 15 people were unrestrained.

David Hart, 45, of Whangarei, died after he was thrown from the car he was driving. The vehicle crashed off the road and down a bank on the southern side of Lookout Hill, in June last year. Hart was not wearing a seatbelt. Photo/File
David Hart, 45, of Whangarei, died after he was thrown from the car he was driving. The vehicle crashed off the road and down a bank on the southern side of Lookout Hill, in June last year. Hart was not wearing a seatbelt. Photo/File

The senior officer running the operation, Inspector Wayne Ewers, was left shaking his head as he looked at the number of tickets and the reason they were issued.

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"Based on the number of fatalities involving people not wearing seatbelts every year this doesn't surprise me but frustrates and disappoints me," Ewers said.

"This shows why we have the highest rate of fatal crashes in the country where there are no restraints worn."

The busiest of the three police teams were those in the Far North where they set up checkpoints and issued 900 tickets over the four days, which included 327 for not wearing seatbelts.

In the Mid North there were 46 tickets issued for those not wearing seatbelts and in Whangārei where officers were at dairies and bakeries, looking for those who were just "going down the road" a further 30 infringement notices were issued.

"We have all these fatalities and they crash because of speed or impairment and they are thrown out because the aren't wearing a seatbelt. The devastation when there is a death in the family is huge but people still can't do the simple click when they get in the car," Ewers said.

"The officers often put down (that) the worst part of policing is going and telling a family their loved one has been killed in a crash and won't be coming home ... it hurts everyone."

Wearing a safety belt reduces the chance of death or serious injury in a crash by 40 per cent.

The NZ Transport Agency said the force on the seatbelts could be as much as 20 times a person's weight. If a seatbelt was not worn, that was how hard a person would hit the inside of the vehicle.

In February the agency started a seatbelt campaign specifically targeting males aged 20-40 years, who live rurally or in the provinces and are a particularly hard to reach. Graphic photos show the injuries but the fact they were alive thanks to wearing a seatbelt.

A NZTA campaign using graphic photos show the injuries but the fact they were alive thanks to wearing a seatbelt. Photo/ NZTA
A NZTA campaign using graphic photos show the injuries but the fact they were alive thanks to wearing a seatbelt. Photo/ NZTA

New Zealand Police statistics show that in Northland over the last 10 years, since it was made illegal to use a mobile device while driving, there were 2294 tickets issued to drivers flouting the law.

What was worse is the statistics relating to drivers and passengers not restrained properly during the period from 2009 to 2018, which over the last decade has resulted in 29,518 tickets issued in Northland, and generated $4.3 million in fines.

But why do people not belt up?

Professor Shanthi Ameratunga, co-director of the University of Auckland's Trauma and Injury Research Group said the answer was "complex".

"Some people, and especially young people, may not see wearing a seatbelt as much of a personal risk at all times they are travelling in cars," she said.

"And if they are with others who are of a similar mindset and in situations where people have been drinking, the risks of not wearing a seatbelt and dying or getting disabled in a crash are magnified many times over."

Ameratunga said when it came to children, lack of education played a big part in non-compliance.

"Some people are still unaware of the importance of having children in properly fitted car restraints that are appropriate for their age and height.

"The answer is more complex than may be obvious."

BELT UP
• Safety belts save lives.
• They support you if you're in a crash or when a vehicle stops suddenly.
• The force on safety belts can be as much as 20 times your weight - this is how hard you'd hit the inside of your vehicle without restraint.
• Wearing a safety belt reduces your chance of death or serious injury in a crash by 40 per cent.
• Whether you sit in the front or the back seat, the risk of serious or fatal injury is virtually the same.
• NZ law requires drivers and passengers in cars and other motor vehicles to wear seat belts and child restraints.
• In the last five years, over 300 people who died in NZ crashes were not wearing their seat belt.
• Many of these people would still be alive today if they were safely wearing their seat belt.
(Source NZTA, MOT, NZ Police)