'Click It Or Ticket' Campaign In Texoma

The Texas Department of Transportation launched its 11th Annual "Click It or Ticket" safety campaign May 1 in Austin, but on Tuesday, law enforcement personnel hosted a campaign awareness event in Wichita Falls.

With less than one week from the date enforcement begins (May 21), organizers are kicking their cause into high gear.

The main display at Tuesday's event: a mangled pick up truck a 17 year old driver and 14 year old passenger managed to escape from after an accident, thanks in part, because they buckled up. It was also the focus of the state's 2012 seat belt awareness campaign. That is, the dangers of not wearing your seat belt while driving or riding in pick up trucks.

The Traffic Safety Director for the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin, Terry Pence, told Newschannel 6, "About 91 percent of pick up drivers buckle up compared to 95 percent for other type of vehicles. For passengers, only 80 percent buckle up compared to 92 percent for other type of passengers in vehicles. So, we've got a big concern."

In Texoma, the two main concerns on the minds of law enforcement officers and medical professionals alike: the safety of new, teen drivers and your children - no matter their age.

Corporal Patrick Timms with the Texas Department of Public Safety's education branch explained, "Young adults are going to be our number one that do not wear their seat belts correctly. They need to get in that habit. It needs to be second nature to them... every time they get in the car, they buckle up."

Laura Pressler furthered Cpl. Timms's point during Tuesday's event. Pressler represented United Regional Health Care System's Trauma Services/Education sector. She said, "Not only do you need to be buckled up and everyone in your car to be buckled up, but also, it's your responsibility - every trip, every time - to have your child properly restrained in your car."

The enforcement period of the campaign kicks off Monday, May 21 and ends June 3. It includes the Memorial Day holiday. An increased number of law enforcement officers will be out on the roads during this time, specifically looking for drivers and passengers not wearing their seat belts or not properly buckling up their children.

When they pull over these drivers breaking the law, they'll ticket them anywhere from $25 to $250 (including court costs). The message behind the seat belt safety awareness campaign: "buckling up is important!" Organizers are serious about getting Texans to click it.

"Our hope is that we'll continue to get all drivers and passengers to buckle up," said Terry Pence.

The financial cost for drivers in violation doesn't matter. TxDOT will continue with their campaign because it's been steadily successful the past ten years, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. "Our seat belt compliance rate has increased. 93.7% of Texans are wearing their seat belts on a regular basis," said Adele Lewis, Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Transportation in Wichita Falls.

State transportation officials said that while the campaign has been successful, in 2011 alone, Lewis said, "We had 3,000 people killed in Texas. Three thousand needless deaths." Of those deaths, almost half reported were not wearing seat belts. The campaign is an incentive to obey the law and stay alive.

TxDOT officials fear that many drivers and passengers are still unaware of safety belt requirements that went into law in 2009. Department of Transportation officials wish to clarify that under Texas law, everyone riding in a vehicle must be secured by a seat belt; including adults. Therefore, if an adult is unbuckled in the back seat of a vehicle, law enforcement will ticket them. All passengers riding in the back seat must now have their seat belts on.

Further, in hopes of clarifying the seat belt law, the Texas Department of Transportation issued a press release highlighting a number of main misconceptions or misunderstood aspects of the law changes that went into effect in 2009. Within the press release, for parents: "Children younger than 8 years old have to ride in a child safety seat or booster seat unless they are taller than 4 feet 9 inches."

Due in part to the "Click It or Ticket" campaign over the past decade, Texas is ranked seventh in the nation for overall seat belt use. Experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate that the steady increase in seat belt usage in Texas has resulted in 2,843 fewer traffic fatalities, 48,000 fewer serious injuries, and a savings to the state of more than $10 billion in associated costs.

For additional information about the campaign, visit http://www.texasclickitorticket.com/

Visit http://www.txdot.gov/ for general Texas Department of Transportation information and questions concerning the seat belt law.

Brittany Glas, Newschannel 6