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Evidence shows that seat belts save lives
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Dear Editor,

It’s hard to believe, but we’re nearly halfway through 2009 and summer vacation road trips are almost here.  What’s also hard to believe is that vacationing drivers in the vast rural areas of our state face a much greater risk of being injured or killed in traffic crashes than drivers in more populated areas.

It’s scary but true and the problem is safety belt use is lower than it should be on our rural roadways so rural Georgia drivers face a very real danger out on country roads, especially around vacation time.  In fact, of the 1,641 traffic fatalities in Georgia in 2007, 49 percent actually occurred in rural areas.

Here at the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) we’re joining forces with local highway safety partners, especially in rural areas, in an effort to make Georgia’s roads safer around our rural communities. This May, we’re getting ready to launch the second wave of our high-visibility “Click It or Ticket” enforcement campaign on Georgia’s rural roads where fatal motor vehicle crashes account for half of all this state’s traffic fatalities.

We want everyone to know, whether you’re driving a passenger vehicle or a pick-up, “Georgia Is Buckle-Up Country.” Because it’s an urban legend that only city drivers face the risk of fatal crashes and serious injury here in Georgia. In 2007, 527 people died in traffic crashes in Georgia’s most rural counties. That compares with 342 traffic death in metro Atlanta.

Our country roads are designed as local, low-speed community connectors and narrow, two-lane highways. With no physical barriers to separate oncoming traffic or restrict access to merging vehicles, rural routes often pose deadly driving hazards.  When unbuckled motorists drive too fast for conditions in the country, all too often our rural highways become roads to tragedy.

And it’s not just a problem here. Nationwide, more than half of America’s traffic deaths occur on country roads even though only a quarter of our population calls the country their home and travels there daily. Because of these factors, Americans driving or riding on rural roadways face a far greater risk of being killed or injured in a traffic crash.

Unfortunately, pickup trucks are often at the root of this deadly problem. Many pickup truck drivers believe their ride is safer than any vehicle on the road. But the fact is pickup truck drivers and their passengers are the most likely motorists to die in rural road crashes. Why? Because pickup trucks have a higher center of gravity and they’re most likely to roll over in a crash. So unbuckled passengers in pickups are most likely to be ejected and killed.

In Georgia, pickup truck seat belt usage is 17-percent less than other passenger vehicles. And nearly 75-percent of the pickup truck occupants killed each year in Georgia are not restrained. Failure to wear seat belts causes an estimated 5,670 additional pickup truck injuries and costs Georgians $346-million in related health care costs and economic losses.

Our special rural roadway enforcement emphasis will begin in conjunction with the state of Georgia’s annual May Click It or Ticket campaign. If we could just get all occupants of all vehicles to wear their seat belts, the senseless traffic deaths in Georgia’s rural counties could be prevented.  We need to put the brakes on Georgia’s rural roads fatalities and now’s the time to do it.

The fact is seat belts save lives, but too many Georgians, particularly those in rural counties, still need a tough reminder. So remember, no more warnings. No more excuses. No matter who you are or where you drive, be sure to click it if you don’t want to risk a ticket. Buckle up every trip. Every time.

Bob Dallas, Director
Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety