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Tennessee buckling down on people not buckled up

Tennessee buckling down on people not buckled up

Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:11 pm

 In an effort to save lives, the Governor’s Highway Safe-ty Office is joining forces with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National High-way Traffic Safety Administra-tion and State and local highway safety and law enforcement leaders across Tennessee to conduct a special high-visibility Click It or Ticket enforcement campaign in May.

The special enforcement campaign that began Monday will buckle down on all motorists not buckling up — but especially those in rural areas. The enforcement effort will coincide with Tennessee’s traditional Click It or Ticket enforcement blitz during the upcoming Memorial Day holiday.

“We are sending the Click It or Ticket message out loud and clear to all drivers and passengers, but with a special emphasis on our rural areas,” Tennessee Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely said. “Almost 60 percent of traffic fatalities in Tennessee in 2007 occurred in rural areas.”

Tennessee’s statistics are consistent with recent NHTSA findings that show even though only about a quarter of the U.S. population live in rural areas, rural  fatalities accounted for more than half of all traffic fatalities in 2007.

Nicely said in addition to motorists in rural areas, teen drivers, particularly young males, as well as pickup truck drivers and passengers, are other sectors of the population most at risk of experiencing a fatal crash.

Low seat belt use in pickup trucks is a particularly big problem across the state. In Tennessee, 80 percent of pickup truck occupants killed in traffic crashes were not restrained, where restraint use was known.

“Seat belts clearly save lives. Unfortunately, too many drivers in Tennessee, and particularly those in our rural areas, need a tough reminder,” GHSO Director Kendell Poole said. “So this May, we’re committed to doing everything we can to convince drivers that regular seat belt use is the single most effective way to protect people and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes.”

Despite a wealth of data showing that seat belts save lives — and also despite implementation of a primary seat belt law — Kentucky remains at the bottom nationally in seat belt usage rates at only 73 percent. The annual Click It or Ticket enforcement campaign will attempt to change that as officers buckle down on those not buckled up.

Kentucky’s effort will run next Monday through May 31.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet highway safety officials, along with state and local law enforcement agencies, launched the battle of the belt at Commonwealth Stadium.

“Kentucky undoubtedly experiences far too many fatalities which could have been avoided with the simple use of a seatbelt,” Secretary of Transportation Joe Prather said. “Clearly this is an indication that people are just not aware of the huge risk taken by not buckling up.”

Prather said the cabinet had been optimistic, with fatality numbers steadily decreasing each year. However, current statistics for 2009 indicate a rise in the number of highway fatalities statewide.

“The majority of these lives could have been saved if they had been wearing a seat belt,” he said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts saved an estimated 15,147 lives nationally in 2007. An additional 5,024 lives could have been saved if seat belts had been worn at the time of the crashes. In Kentucky in 2008, there were 826 fatalities. Of those, 454 (55 percent) were not buckled up. When worn correctly, seat belts are proven to reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat occupants by 45 percent and by 60 percent in pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans.

Dr. Andrew Bernard, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Kentucky Hospital and chairman of the Kentucky Trauma Advisory Committee, has seen the devastating results first hand.

“I see people every day who weren’t wearing seat belts and who were severely injured or killed because of it. No question. Their lives are changed forever,” he said. “If we were immune to crashes, we wouldn’t need seat belts. But no one is immune, no one. Anyone can be involved in a crash at any time and the seat belt, if applied, will be there for you.”

To encourage usage, checkpoints will be conducted by law enforcement during the two-week Click It or Ticket mobilization. Those not buckled up will receive a citation.

However, rewards will be provided at about 100 McDonald’s restaurants in Kentucky on Monday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. 

Customers should watch for police officers handing out prizes, coupons and informational flyers at area drive-thrus. Drivers and passengers wearing seat belts will receive coupons as long as they are available.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Highway Safety is awarding more than $470,000 in federal dollars to 90 police agencies across the commonwealth to help bolster seat belt enforcement during the campaign. The funding is provided through the enacted federal transportation bill, which includes support for local enforcement programs nationwide.

Although enforcement officers will be prevalent during the campaign, Prather emphasized, “The Click It or Ticket campaign really is not about writing tickets. It’s about awareness and saving lives. If one life is saved through the effort, it will be worth it.”
Published in The Messenger 5.12.09