The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held the kickoff for its 2023 Click It or Ticket campaign at a news conference held Thursday morning at the Texas Travel Information Center, located at 9700 East I-40.
During the campaign kickoff, roadway officials came together to speak on the importance of the campaign and their continued efforts to urge individuals to buckle up every time they are in a vehicle, no matter how small or long the travel.
According to TxDOT, wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of dying in a vehicle crash by up to 45%; in a pickup, wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of dying by 69%. In the year 2022, TxDOT has seen a 2.5% increase in deaths regarding individuals not wearing their seatbelts, or approximately 1,258 deaths. The same year, there were 3,357 vehicle crashes in Texas in which unbuckled motorists sustained fatal or serious injuries.
“As a reminder, airbags are not a substitute for seatbelts,” Director of Operations for TxDOT Amarillo, Wes Kimmell said. “I think sometimes we lose focus on this, and we need to understand that airbags are really there to assist us. The car is intended to keep us inside, but if we do not wear our seatbelts, there is a chance that we could be thrown outside of the vehicle.”
The TxDOT representative stated that 60% of all crashes occur during nighttime hours, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and is something that they will focus on moving forward. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most crashes occur within 25 miles of your home. The road safety officials urge individuals to wear a seatbelt no matter how short the trip.
“It doesn’t matter if you are just going down the street to the store. You have to wear that seatbelt every single time, no matter where you are going — whether its an eight-hour trip or a minute trip down the road, you make it a habit to wear your seatbelt, because it only takes that one time, that one crash, and you or your loved one could be seriously injured,” Sgt. Cindy Barkley from the Texas Department of Public Safety said.
According to Randall County Judge Tracy Byrd, seatbelt laws were established in 1985, and in 2002, Click It or Ticket began their campaign in Texas. Since its establishment, seatbelt usage rate increased from 76% to more than 90%. However, according to TxDOT Amarillo Traffic Safety Specialist LaViza Matthews, those rates of over 90% usage have begun to drop since the COVID-19 pandemic, seen as early as 2020, due to less cars on the road and less interactions with law enforcement.
Since January, DPS has responded to 24 fatal crashes in the Amarillo district, including the top 26 counties. Of those crashes, they have reported a total of 27 deaths, with 14 of those deaths involving unrestrained occupants. That equates to more than 50% of the year’s crashes so far resulting in fatalities involving drivers or passengers not wearing their seatbelts.
Judge Byrd stated that the average ticket cost, at the approximate lowest price, is a seatbelt violation of $160, and a violation of a child safety seatbelt is estimated at $350.
“One of the most challenging things about being a justice court judge is being one of the county coroners. Being with a family after a traffic related death can be emotional for all involved, not just the loved ones who are left to cherish the memories of the one that has passed, but for the first responders as well, dispatch to fire, law to EMS. We all have way too many sad scenes forever in our minds because of a scene based on an outcome that could have been totally different if there had first been a click,” Byrd said.
In estimation, the awareness campaign has saved an approximate 7,000 lives, prevented 129,000 serious injuries and resulted in $28.5 billion economic savings since its conception in 2002, according to TxDOT.
Deaf Smith County Chief Deputy Cody Carrell spoke about this being the first year of the county taking a part in the campaign. Carrell spoke about the amount of traveling for many of their citizens, and that in total 54% of individuals killed during the height of crash times, at night, were due to those individuals not wearing seatbelts.
“There are three main factors that we see in Amarillo that kill people in crashes. One is speeding, Another is drinking and driving, and a big factor is individuals not wearing a seatbelt. … As a reminder, everyone in a vehicle, front and back, is required to wear a seatbelt by state law. … Children younger that 8 years of age must be restrained in a safety seat or a child’s booster seat unless they are taller than 4’9. … Please help us save lives in our community, and wear your seatbelt at all times,” said Amarillo Police Chief Martin Birkenfeld.
Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas stated in the kickoff event that drivers with pickup trucks, specifically in Texas, were less likely to wear a seatbelt than drivers of passenger vehicles. In 2022, an observational study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institution Center found that 87.6% of front seat pickup occupants use seatbelts, which is 3.7% less than the 91.3% of front seat passengers of car occupants who use seatbelts. Thomas said this fact is is alarming, considering that pickup vehicles are more likely to roll in a crash than a car.
The campaign will run from May 22 to June 4. In an effort to reduce these preventable deaths, law agencies will strengthen their enforcement of seatbelt usage and child passenger safety.
TxDOT’s Click It or Ticket campaign is a key component of #EndTheStreakTX, a broader social media and word-of-mouth effort that encourages drivers to make safer choices while behind the wheel to help end the streak of daily deaths. Nov. 7, 2000, was the last deathless day on Texas roadways.
The Randall County Sheriffs Office was unavailable to attend the campaign kickoff. Those in attendance wished the department their condolences as they mourn the loss of Sgt. Jay Claxton and Sgt. Gary Goodner.
For more information about Click It of Ticket, go online to https://www.texasclickitorticket.com/ .
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