CITYWIDE — With the holidays upon us, millions of Americans will be on the road, traveling to the homes of family and friends. The Santa Monica Police Department wants everyone to arrive safely for their Thanksgiving feasts and is reminding drivers and passengers to buckle up or risk getting a ticket.

“No one wants to start the holidays off wrong with a ticket,” said SMPD Chief Tim Jackman. “Save your money for turkey and buying presents for loved ones — don’t throw it away simply because you failed to buckle up.”

More than 100 local law enforcement agencies statewide and the California Highway Patrol will be out in force for the “click it or ticket” campaign, which is funded by a federal grant dispersed by the California Office of Traffic Safety. Officers will be on the lookout for those driving without their seat belts fastened.

While seat belt use is at a record high of 83 percent nationwide, 45 million Americans still fail to buckle up when they get into a motor vehicle. Even though in California 96.2 percent use their restraints, it still means that more than 1.5 million Californians don’t buckle up, law enforcement officials said.

During the holiday period, more than 35 people who are not wearing their seat belts will be killed in car crashes each day nationwide. Statewide, overall traffic deaths declined by 23 percent, from 3,995 in 2007 to 3,081 in 2009, due in part to the increased use of seat belts. Total traffic fatalities are at their lowest levels in six decades, authorities said.

“Sadly, the holidays, which for many are the happiest time of the year, are also one of the deadliest and most tragic,” Jackman said.

Christopher J. Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety, said seat belts are the most effective way to protect people and reduce fatalities in car crashes.

“Law enforcement estimates indicate that more than 1,300 Californians survived by buckling up last year,” he said. “Sadly, however, about 150 others will not be gathering with families during the holidays because they chose not to use their seat belts.”

National 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.

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