By Jason A. Smith
Local and state authorities are hitting the streets in full force in advance of the holiday season, as the Governor's Office of Highway Safety's (GOHS) Click It Or Ticket campaign for the 2009 Thanksgiving travel period was launched on Monday.
The endeavor will continue on Georgia's roads through Nov. 29, as law-enforcement officers statewide are stepping up patrols in search of drivers and passengers who are not wearing seat belts.
Katie Fallon, a spokesperson for the GOHS, said a "big reason" exists for why the agency targets violators of Georgia's seat-belt law at Thanksgiving.
"Traditionally, it is one of the most dangerous travel periods in our nation," said Fallon. "Last year during this period, there were 3,815 crashes, 1,457 injuries and 19 fatalities. "
The GOHS issued a written statement Friday, detailing the need for the seat-belt campaign. In the statement, the agency's director, Bob Dallas, acknowledged the inconvenience which comes with a seat-belt check, but indicated it is a small price to pay to promote safety.
"While you may grumble under your breath about the five minutes it takes for an officer to see your license and proof of insurance at a seat-belt, safety check, during Click It or Ticket, we can guarantee that officer who's writing your ... citation is thinking about all the crash scenes where the three-second process of buckling a seat belt could have saved a life," said Dallas, in the release.
"Sadly, in 2008, 136 more Georgia lives could have been saved if all drivers and passengers wore seat belts at the time of serious crashes."
The GOHS has teamed up, for the campaign, with numerous law-enforcement entities statewide, including police departments in the Southern Crescent.
Kimberly Monast, a research and development specialist for the Henry County Police Department, said local statistics indicate a dramatic increase in the number of local motorists who have been stopped for not wearing seat belts.
According to Monast, her agency issued 703 seat-belt citations during the 2008 Thanksgiving Click It Or Ticket campaign, compared with just 274 citations in 2007.
"We've stepped up safety enforcement efforts across the board, because we had increased fatalities in 2007 and early 2008," said Monast.
She added that a Georgia law enacted in 1996, holds that drivers and passengers can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, "even in the absence of other citations."
The GOHS reports that nearly one-in-five Americans do not wear seat belts when driving or riding in a vehicle. This trend, the agency maintains, is evident during the Thanksgiving travel period.
"Nationwide last year, 40 percent of all traffic crash victims killed during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period were not wearing their safety belts," the GOHS' news release states. "Here in Georgia, failure to use safety belts is a major contributing factor in more than half of Thanksgiving holiday traffic deaths."
For more details, visit www.gahighwaysafety.org, www.region4ruralbeltproject.org, or www.NHTSA.gov.