By CHRIS MENEES
The statistics are alarming.
There have already been 11 traffic fatalities this year in Obion County — with five months of 2012 remaining.
By comparison, there were three traffic fatalities countywide for all of 2011 and five in 2010.
As a result, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is stepping up seat belt enforcement and working to educate the public about the importance of wearing seat belts.
THP Sgt. Carl Jones said seat belt use is “the single most important safety feature” for motorists. He noted seat belts would have made a difference in several of the 11 traffic deaths that have occurred so far this year in Obion County.
Of this year’s local traffic deaths, five occurred in January alone, including a triple fatality accident near Hornbeak just a week into the new year. Other deaths occurred in February, March, April and, most recently, June.
Several of the traffic deaths have occurred on rural roads throughout the county, rather than main highways, and one of the fatalities occurred in the city limits of Union City.
THP Sgt. Chris Richardson, who is over special programs for the THP’s Memphis District, said out of this year’s 11 fatalities, seven of them were not wearing seats and two were alcohol-related.
He noted there had been just one traffic fatality in Obion County by this same time a year ago.
“We want to draw awareness to the fact there have been 11 fatalities so far this year in Obion County,” he told The Messenger.
Richardson said the THP has increased its efforts locally and has been working in conjunction with other local law enforcement agencies. Citations for not using seat belts have increased and there have been some special enforcements such as road blocks to check for violations and sobriety checkpoints to target impaired drivers.
THP Lt. James Tate said seat belt enforcement is up 109 percent this year in the Memphis District of the THP, which includes Obion County. In addition, DUI (driving under the influence) arrests are up 47 percent in the district.
Tate said state troopers are becoming more aggressive in their enforcement efforts with late-night shifts and saturation patrols, utilizing grant funding to cover overtime.
Plus, three state troopers have been added to Obion County’s force, including two new cadets and one officer who transferred from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, and troopers are diligently trying to educate the public about seat belt use.
Two new digital signs bearing the “Click It or Ticket” seat belt enforcement message have been stationed on roadways in Obion County — one on U.S. 51 between Troy and Union City and one on Main Street in downtown Hornbeak — with the assistance of the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Click It or Ticket is a high-visibility education and enforcement campaign of Tennessee’s seat belt laws. The effort aims to reduce serious injuries and fatalities on the state’s roadways by reminding everyone to obey the law and to buckle up.
There have been 553 traffic fatalities so far this year across Tennessee, compared with 524 for this same period a year ago, according to the latest numbers released Wednesday by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The local THP troopers noted that failure to wear a seat belt could result in a citation and a court fine, but — even more importantly — could have deadly consequences in the event of a traffic accident.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 7.26.12