Stepped-up enforcement of seatbelt laws begins today across the country, with Pennsylvania offering free child-seat checks at dozens of locations.

The campaign, dubbed "Click It or Ticket," runs until June 5 in most states, with even multistate agencies like the Delaware River Port Authority taking part. A second crackdown period happens every fall.

Requirements and penalties vary from state to state.

In Pennsylvania, drivers and front seat passengers 18 and over, as well as children ages 8 to 17 in any seat, must wear a seatbelt. The fine is only $10, however, and police can't pull a car over just for failure to buckle up. Booster seats are mandated for any child between 4 and 8, again subject to a $10 fine for violators.

Police can, however, stop a car for suspicion of having a child from birth to 4 without a car seat, and the penalty for violators is $100. (For the free child-seat inspection locations, go to: http://bit.ly/l9kWgq.)

During Click It or Ticket, state police will have extra "regulatory checkpoints" where drivers are asked to show their licenses and registration. If a ticket is given out for a primary violation, then a ticket could be written for not being buckled, explained Cpl. Jonathan Kline.

"It's tough to enforce," he said. "We're trying to encourage use of seatbelts more than to fine people."

In New Jersey, police can stop a vehicle if the driver or a front passenger isn't buckled up; all passengers are required to be belted in; and the maximum fine for a first offense is $46.

About 1 in 12 Pennsylvania drivers fail to buckle up, while about 1 in 16 don't in New Jersey.

Delaware police can even pull over cars with unbelted backseat passengers, and the fine is up to $25.

Wearing seat belts saves lives, analysts say.

Last year, Pennsylvania crashes killed 523 people who could have buckled up (doesn't count motorcyclists or pedestrians), and 279 people who did, according to www.buckleuppa.org. The rate is especially high at night.

More than 2,000 unbuckled drivers and front seat passengers died in the last 10 years in New Jersey. About 700 unbuckled were thrown out of their vehicles and killed, according to the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

The Delaware River Port Authority oversees the Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman and Commodore Barry Bridges, as well as the PATCO High-Speed Line.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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