The Texas Department of Transportation's 9th annual "Click It or Ticket" spring campaign kicks off this week with a warning to drivers and passengers to fasten their safety belts or expect to get a ticket.

Transportation officials said state laws enacted in 2009 could result in more citations this year if drivers and passengers fail to heed new safety belt requirements.

For the first time, all passengers in the back seat now must be buckled up, and children younger than 8 years old have to ride in a child safety seat or booster seat unless they are taller than 4 feet 9 inches. Fines range from $25 to $250 plus court costs.

"Whether you‚re the driver or a passenger in the front or back seat, every adult and every child in the vehicle must be properly restrained," said Carol Rawson, Traffic Operations Division Director for TxDOT. "Buckling up can not only save you from getting an expensive ticket, it can also save your life."

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for those between four and 44 years of age.

Last year in Texas, more than 3,400 people died in fatal collisions on Texas streets and highways.

In 2008, half of all pickup truck drivers killed in traffic crashes were not buckled up.

Wearing a safety belt increases the odds of surviving a crash by more than 50 percent, and in pickups, that number increases to 80 percent.

Thousands of state troopers will join police officers and sheriffs‚ deputies statewide to step up enforcement of the state's safety belt laws between May 24 and June 6, including the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Since the "Click It or Ticket" campaign began in 2002, the state's safety belt use rate has increased from 76 percent to almost 93 percent.

Safety experts estimate the rise in the numbers of motorists who now buckle up has resulted in 2,400 fewer traffic fatalities and prevented more than 56,300 injuries.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute, motorists least likely to buckle up continue to include men, teenage boys and pickup drivers and passengers.

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