Busiest travel period of the year under way

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Law enforcement agencies across the state are joining in a national effort to reach all Thanksgiving travelers with one important message: buckle up. In 2013, 20 people died in crashes in Georgia during the Thanksgiving travel period (Nov. 27- Dec. 1). Many of those deaths could have been prevented with one simple click of a seat belt.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that proper seat belt use reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to serious injury by 50 percent. In 2012, approximately 12,174 people survived crashes because they were buckled up. If everyone had worn their seat belts that year, an additional 3,031 lives could have been saved.

Law enforcement will cracking down on motorists who are not buckled up during the Thanksgiving holiday period. The two-week Click It or Ticket mobilization will target drivers and passengers who are not restrained in motor vehicles as well as adults who do not properly restrain children. The enforcement effort will continue through Nov. 30.

"More than half the drivers and passengers being killed in crashes aren't wearing seat belts. That's a major problem," said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. "With lower gas prices this year, we're going to see more drivers on our roads for the holidays, and unfortunately, that usually means more crashes on our roadways. But it doesn't have to make for a deadly holiday season. Buckle up and make it home safely this year."

Thanksgiving weekend in 2012 (6 p.m. Wednesday, November 21, to 5:59 a.m. Monday, November 26), a disturbing 6 out of 10 of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts. At night, the statistic was even worse: 69 percent of the occupants killed at night were unbuckled.

Younger drivers are the most likely to be unbuckled in a fatal crash. In 2012, among passenger vehicle occupant fatalities where restraint use was known, the age group 21 to 24 had the highest percentage of occupants killed who were unrestrained: 2,254 fatalities where restraint use was known, of which 63 percent were not wearing seat belts. The second highest percentage of seat belt nonuse among passenger vehicle occupants killed was the 25- to 34-year-olds, at 61-percent unrestrained.

NHTSA data also reveals that males are more likely to be unbuckled than females in a fatal crash. Fifty-six percent of the males killed in crashes in 2012 were not buckled up, as compared to 43 percent for females. Right now, the overall seat belt use rate in the United States is 87 percent, which is a major increase over the 79 percent use rate in 2003, but there is a lot of room for further gains.

"For those people who already buckle up every time: Thank you," Blackwood said. "For them, this campaign serves as a reminder. But for those people who still don't buckle up for whatever reason, I want to say this: buckling your seat belt is one of the simplest, safest things you'll ever do."

So this Thanksgiving, and every day of the year, make sure your seat belt is buckled before you start any road trip-whether it's one mile or a thousand.

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