By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Picture this: It’s a beautiful spring day, and you decide to take the family out of the house on a drive somewhere in the country.
The air is warm.
The sun feels fuzzy and comfortable.
The car is cool inside and the windows are rolled down.
The smell of the new foliage overwhelms.
Cows, and a hawk, and a couple of horses get pointed out to the little ones in the back seat.
Suddenly, around a sharp corner, it happens.
You come face to face with a driver taking his half out of the middle.
A collision is inevitable.
But depending on what decisions were made before the car was ever started could mean two entirely different outcomes after this crash.
If you strapped the kids in either the appropriate car seats or the seat belts themselves, ensured your side-seat passenger was seat-belted in, and you clicked on your own seat belt, you and your family will likely survive this head-on smash-up.
But if the safety of seat belts and child restraint seats was overlooked, you and your family may end up in a world of pain.
You may crack your breastbone slamming into the steering wheel. Your passenger may break a neck plunging into the dashboard.
Your children could be launched like a rocket through the windshield.
All of you could even end up dead.
All because a minute or two wasn’t taken to “click it.”
And as an effort to combat highway fatalities from lack of seat belts, law enforcement officials gathered Wednesday at Shiloh’s Roadhouse in London to help launch the upcoming Click It Or Ticket 2013 Traffic Safety Campaign.
According to Bob Criswell, law enforcement liaison with the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, there were two groups of law enforcement officers that gathered Wednesday.
All law enforcement met for lunch, however, representative officers from the top 25 targeted counties met a bit earlier.
Criswell explained that in southeastern Kentucky, six counties are among those 25, including Laurel and Whitley counties. Other counties in southeastern Kentucky among the top 25 in the state are Pulaski, Clay, Pike and Perry.
“The top 25 means there are a significant number of DUI (driving under the influence) crashes, speed crashes with injury or death — or crashes where people weren’t belted (within those listed counties),” Criswell said.
The Click It Or Ticket campaign officially starts Monday and runs through June 2, to include the Memorial Day weekend.
Laurel County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Gilbert Acciardo said the department plans to give 100 percent effort. “We have a great team and we want to have a really successful campaign,” he said. “We are interested in safety and saving lives.”
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said his department was also ready, but noted one difficult traffic enforcement issue. “The hardest thing for us to enforce is texting while driving,” Bird said. “It is difficult to determine.”
He added that likely Williamsburg residents and those traveling through can expect to see road checks, road patrols and an increased law enforcement presence.
London Police Chief Stewart Walker agreed.
“We take this very seriously,” Walker said. “We want to make the highways safer.”
He added that enforcement should happen at different times — not just during the campaign, but year-round.
“You should look at the number of crashes and the number of fatalities, and the impact that has on a community, whether financial or with family,” Walker said. “It is our place to protect and serve, and (with this campaign) we can (make it) safer for all those in our communities, and for all those who visit our communities as well.”
So far in 2013, Criswell said the number of vehicular crash fatalities is lower than at this time in 2012. This year as of Wednesday morning, 190 people lost their lives on Kentucky roads.
In 2012, 256 had perished in crashes by May 15.
Criswell shared some statistical information with the approximately 50 law enforcement officials who attended.
For example, he explained in 2011, of the drivers between the ages of 18 and 34 who were killed in traffic crashes, 64 percent of those were not wearing their seat belts. When that same age group only includes males drivers, that number jumps to 66 percent.
He added that in 2011, an estimated 11,949 people were saved by having their seat belts on during a crash.
Criswell also said that seat belt usage among drivers nationwide in 1994 averaged about 58 percent.
With highly visible law enforcement across the country, that number sharply increased to 86 percent seat belt usage in 2012.
In Kentucky for 2012, 83.7 percent of drivers were using their seat belts.
Another interesting statistic shared by Criswell was seat belt usage with pickup truck drivers. He said that usage rates are lower among those drivers, and that in 2011, 65 percent of pickup truck occupants killed in crashes were without a seat belt.
Only 46 percent killed in passenger cars were not buckled up.
He shared a short video on a highway crash where the victim was not buckled up — and played it multiple times.
In the video, there was a white car which swerved in its lane and lost control, striking another car. The second car spun around and hit the wall, and the white car went into a sort of spin — and then you see the driver get ejected from the car and land in the middle of the interstate.
Criswell said they started this campaign now for one reason. “The Memorial Day holiday starts the summer driving season,” he said. “This (enforcement) should lessen the spike in fatalities.”
He also urged increased patrols for child booster seat violations.
While child restraint violations have been enforced, in 2011, officers wrote only 28 percent as many booster seat violations as they did for violations of child restraint laws.
The result? That same year, child highway deaths went down for every age group — except for 5 to 9 year olds.
Criswell also urged officers to lead by example.
“Law enforcement should set a good example,” he said. “(Lack of a seat belt) is the leading cause of death (for law enforcement officials).”
According to a federal review, at least 42 percent of police officers killed in vehicle crashes during the past three decades were not wearing seat belts or other safety restraints.
“Make sure you’re buckled up, and the people with you are buckled up,” Criswell added. “Everyone in the community watches if you put your seat belt on.”
Criswell said that law enforcement already works collaboratively on this safety campaign. “State and local agencies work together and have a really good start on it this year,” he said.
Saving lives, however, is the main goal. “We want to reduce serious injuries and reduce fatalities — that’s the bottom line,” Criswell said.