It's "Click It Or Ticket" time in Georgia, and anyone who complains about getting a ticket for not buckling up deserves a crash-course in road-reality.
Even though the numbers often seem surreal, across the country in 2008, 13,250 lives were saved by seatbelts. What's more, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates an additional 4,152 lives would have been saved if those passengers had just buckled up.
Despite these nearly miraculous results, nearly one in five Americans still fail to buckle up regularly.
While sometimes all this can just sound like so many statistics, the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and our law enforcement partners know from on-the-job experience that behind those numbers are actual faces of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children and friends from right here at home. Too many Georgia families talk to us about personal losses that are often prevented if loved ones will wear their safety belts.
Now we're only days away from Memorial Day, and in Georgia the end of May is about more than just swimming pools and backyard barbecues. It signals the official start of the summer holiday travel period, too. And even though we're proud to say Georgia has an 89 percent safety belt use rate - the highest in the Southeast - too many of our traffic fatalities are the ones that are still unbelted.
The truth is that some Georgians still try to convince themselves and others that they don't need seat belts. What's worse is those people who choose to disobey this life-saving law are not only risking their own lives, but the emotional and financial health of their families, friends and even neighbors as well. That's because, all too often, death is the ultimate consequence for not wearing a seat belt.
You should also know that unbuckled crash deaths run even higher at night because many night drivers manage to fool themselves into believing they're "crash-proof.'' NHTSA released startling findings that 63 percent of passenger-vehicle occupants killed during nighttime crashes were not wearing their safety belts.
But even for those who escape a fatal crash, the economic cost of injuries that might have been prevented by a properly buckled seat belt can be staggering. We all share in those tragic consequences and bear the burden of the catastrophic costs of needless injuries from traffic crashes. Every year, vehicle crashes cost the equivalent of sending an $800 invoice to every person in this country.
This is why we join every year with hundreds of our state and local law enforcement agencies and highway safety partners to step up high-visibility safety belt enforcement on Georgia roads. Traffic enforcement officers will be out in force this May to show their dedication to solving this problem. We want 100 percent of Georgia drivers and passengers to buckle up.
Buckling-up costs you nothing, but the cost of not buckling-up this summer could be a ticket - or worse, your life. This might be the only life-saving warning you get: In Georgia, if you don't click it, expect a ticket.
Seat belts saved 521 lives in Georgia traffic crashes last year. So I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's not about writing tickets; it's about saving lives. And I'll keep saying it until we stop seeing so many needless deaths on our roads because drivers and passengers simply won't invest the second or two it takes to click it.
Don't let your Memorial Day weekend end with a memorial service for someone you love. Click it or ticket!
(Bob Dallas is director of the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety.)
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