TxDOT launches awareness campaign

The number of traffic crashes throughout 2020 declined. However, the number of fatalities overall and deaths from people in Texas from not wearing seatbelts saw a spike.

To spread awareness, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has launched a seatbelt education and enforcement campaign statewide this week.

Last year, the simple act of buckling up saved many Texans from death or serious injuries.

Unfortunately, in 2020 there was a 16 percent increase in deaths of unbuckled motorists.

There were 1,073 fatalities in 2020 and 926 fatalities in 2019 due to people not wearing seatbelts.

Odessa District of TxDOT Public Information Officer Gene Powell said that in this district, which includes 12 counties, there 42 deaths and 79 serious injuries last year.

“I’m not saying that a seat belt will save every life, but it sure saves most of them,” Powell said. “If we can reduce that 42 by any amount then it’s well worth it. We know that people in pickups are less likely to wear seat belts and that’s what we have out here — a bunch of pickups. … If you’re involved in a rollover accident and you don’t have a seat belt on and you get ejected, you don’t have much of a chance to survive. We see way too many of those in our district.”

According to a press release from TxDOT, putting on a seat belt can reduce the risk of dying by up to 45 percent for people in the front seat of passenger cars and up to 60 percent for people in pickup trucks.

From May 24-June 6, the summer driving season will start up and families will be out on the roads for Memorial Day weekend.

The release states that Texas officers and deputies will step up enforcement of the state’s seat belt and child car seat laws.

“What happens between those dates is stepped up enforcement and this is not a ‘gotcha’ so we can raise money. This is a reminder to save your life or the life of a loved one,” Powell said. “The law enforcement will step up enforcement of seat belts and issue tickets for violations. We have grants through TxDOT to help pay for overtime for some agencies, so we have more cops on the road longer, looking for seat belt violations and other things as well. It’s not about the fine. It’s not a money-raising campaign because TXDOT doesn’t get any of that money. It’s about saving lives and safety and reminding people that a seat belt can be the difference between a fatality and walking away.”

As far as fatalities from not wearing seat belts this year in Odessa, Powell said there is already a handful.

“In Odessa, there were nine fatalities and 11 serious injuries,” Powell said. “Compare that to Midland where they only had one fatality and nine serious injuries; so obviously, for whatever reason, we have a bigger problem in Odessa.”

Powell said he wasn’t sure what the reason was for the high number of fatalities in Odessa.

“Something’s not right,” Powell said. “We’re not wearing our seat belts. Is it laziness? Is it arrogance? It’s hard to know why it happens. It just seems like we don’t want to wear our masks and we don’t want to wear our seatbelts. We don’t want to do anything to protect ourselves. It doesn’t make much sense to me.”