Thanksgiving seat belt enforcement aims to keep crash deaths low

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

You think you spot more than usual numbers of police cars on the road this Thanksgiving holiday, it's probably not your imagination. The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission is coordinating the statewide "Buckle Up America. Every Trip. Every Time." campaign which will put extra local officers, deputies and State Police on the roads.

Last year, 10 people were killed in Thanksgiving crashes--the second highest number for any 2011 holiday period in Louisiana, behind only Mardi Gras, when 15 people were killed. Part of the reason for high crash deaths during Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras is that those holiday periods include 102 hours, while most other holidays are 78 hours. However, safety officials also attribute part of the death rate for Thanksgiving to a high volume of travel as families gather for the traditional turkey dinner. Thanksgiving 2011 included 442 crashes, which resulted in 765 injuries as well as the 10 deaths.

"Wearing your seat belt is the single most effective way to save your life and the lives of loved ones while on the road this Thanksgiving holiday," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "As we've done in recent years, we are providing funds that allow law enforcement agencies across the state to put more officers on the road this holiday."

State Police and local law enforcement agencies use Commission grants to pay officers overtime to conduct additional patrols dedicated to seat belt enforcement during Thanksgiving week, which begins Sunday, Nov. 18 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 25. Enhanced activities include check points and saturation patrols.

"Louisiana achieved declines in highway deaths in each of the past four years, and we believe tougher enforcement and increased use of safety belts are playing an important role in saving these lives." said LeBlanc. "Last year 676 people were killed in crashes in Louisiana, about one-third fewer than five years ago when 993 were killed. That's an enormous improvement, which wouldn't have happened without motorists driving more carefully and obeying safety laws, such as wearing safety belts."

Louisiana law requires drivers and passengers--including those in the rear seats--to wear their seat belts while a vehicle is in motion. Wearing seat belts greatly improves the chances of surviving a crash and reduces the severity of injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts saved over 12,500 lives in 2010.

Studies conducted by NHTSA demonstrate that high-profile enforcement campaigns are effective in convincing motorists to wear their seat belts. A 2012 survey found that 79.3 percent of Louisiana motorists had their seat belts fastened, an increase of 1.2 percentage points over the previous year's rate. In the mid-1980s, before wearing seat belts became a requirement, only about 12 percent of motorists in Louisiana were buckling up. In recent years at least 60 percent of persons killed in crashes in Louisiana were reported not wearing a seat belt.