AMHERST — Customers at the McDonald’s restaurant drive-through on North Leavitt Road suspiciously eyed an Amherst police officer as he walked over to their car.
“What did I do?” one woman asked Lt. Mark Cawthon.
Cawthon, with a smile on his face, simply presented a yellow coupon to the woman.
“Good morning,” he said. “I notice you were wearing a seat belt. Here’s a coupon for a free hamburger. Have a nice day.”
Cawthon, armed with several coupons, stood outside the Amherst McDonald’s 8 to 9 a.m. Monday, passing them out to safe drivers.
He also carried a stack of air fresheners, designated for those who did not buckle up. The air fresheners contained a reminder to wear a seat belt.
In an hour, 131 vehicles passed through the restaurant drive-through with 113 using seat belts and 18 vehicles getting air fresheners. There were a total of 18 passengers and 17 were wearing seat belts.
Cawthon said the idea of “Buckle Up for Burgers,” Lorain County Safe Community Coalition’s partnership with local McDonald’s restaurants, is to reward good behavior — something police officers don’t often get a chance to do.
“We’re reinforcing the fact of wearing the seat belt,” Cawthon said. “There’s no enforcement action today.”
Teresa Starkey of Lorain was startled to see a police officer standing near the drive-through Monday morning.
“I thought I was in trouble at first. I almost didn’t pull in,” she said, laughing.
Starkey, who said she visits the Amherst McDonald’s daily, said the burgers for buckling up was a good idea, although she always uses a seat belt.
“I think this is great,” she said. “I’m definitely going to use this for a free burger.”
Another lucky customer, Bud Matistic of Amherst, was awarded a coupon.
Matistic said he always buckles up. When asked why he uses a seat belt, he said, shrugging, “to save a life.”
According to the Safe Community Coalition, nearly half of Lorain County fatalities in 2012 involved an unbuckled driver or passenger. A driver wearing a seat belt is 45 percent more likely to survive a crash if he or she is buckled up, according to the coalition.
Cawthon said police officers will enforce “Click it or Ticket” week through June 2. During the week, officers will closely watch seat belt and child restraint violations, and a “zero-tolerance” policy will be in place.
Tickets will be issued to those found in violation of Ohio state law, according to a news release from the Safe Community Coalition.
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.