By Daniel Silliman
A seat belt can seem like an inconsequential thing -- until you see a fatal accident scene.
As Clayton County police officers push seat-belt safety this week, with a blitz of traffic stops and tickets, they are trying to save lives, said Lt. Brian Danekes, traffic unit commander.
"For a new officer, and even a seasoned officer, to come out to a traffic accident and see the carnage, it's a wake-up call. That's a violent death. That's what we're doing out here. We're trying to save lives," Danekes said.
The Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) statistics show more than 27,000 people were involved in traffic accidents last year, and about 91 percent were wearing seat belts. There were 4,119 injured in the accidents, and 3,780 of those weren't wearing their seat belts when they were hurt.
Of the 23 people who died in accidents in Clayton County last year, 10 weren't restrained at the time of the accident.
"I think every officer out there has seen the affects of not wearing the seat belt," Danekes said.
The annual crack down, called "Click-it or Ticket," started Monday and will continue through the weekend after Thanksgiving. The blitz includes road checks and a general increas in patrol activity and tickets.
The effort is targeted at holiday traffic, because of the increase of travelers. According to the GOHS statistics, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the busiest traffic day of the year.
Across the country, police officers report an average of more than 300 traffic deaths on Thanksgiving day, and another 300 on Thanksgiving night, every year.
"We truly agonize over those Georgia families that could have been spared the heartbreak of making funeral preparations while other families were making holiday travel arrangements to be with their loved ones. It's just so clear that safety belts save lives," said Bob Dallas, director of the GOHS.
Danekes said the message is getting out, though. He said the county's seat-belt usage rates are consistently high and have increased over the years the department has participated in "Click-it or Ticket."
The lieutenant said the police officers are asking everyone to wear their seat belts this year. With families going to see relatives, young drivers, old drivers and out-of-state drivers filling the roads, the officers are spending their Thanksgiving on patrol, and they want every one to just stay safe.
"Buckle up," Danekes said. "Wear those seat belts. They serve a purpose and they do work. The officers out here see it every day."