Police Lt. Anthony Davis has seen too many fatal crashes in his career, many of them, he said, preventable tragedies that could have been averted with the use of a seat belt.
The numbers bear out his belief. From Jan. 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2013, there were 15 unbelted fatalities in Sampson. From 2008-2012, there were 35. Even more staggering, estimates are that some 70 percent of teenagers locally get behind the wheel of a vehicle without wearing a seat belt.
All those figures have helped position Sampson in the state’s Top 10 for individuals ejected from vehicles during traffic crashes. It is a ranking Davis and other law enforcement officers are working to correct with actions that will begin Monday, May 5, with a one-two punch of education and enforcement they hope will send a clear message — buckling up can secure your future.
That education and enforcement is part of a concentrated effort to ensure drivers and passengers traveling through Sampson County are belted in, a part of a larger statewide Click It or Ticket campaign that begins two weeks later, on May 19.
The campaign, which continues through June 1, will be conducted countywide and will involve the Clinton Police, the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and the Highway Patrol.
“Ours is starting earlier because of where we rank in the state,” Davis stressed as he thumbed through a book of statistical data painting a grim picture of the county’s fatality history. “These statistics are disturbing. Early on in my career I had to go to an accident involving a 12-year-old who died because she was not in a child restraint. That hits home … you realize the importance of wearing a seat belt, having your children restrained.
Davis, operations commander for the Clinton Police Department, is serving as county coordinator for the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the group charged with promoting and enforcing the Click It campaign. As he sees it, enforcing the law now just might prevent yet another tragedy from occurring.
“This is a way of getting their attention and, hopefully, educating them at the same time. The fines are stiff, around $200. That will make you think. And if you just get in the habit, after a couple months, it’ll all be muscle memory, you won’t even have to think before you fasten that belt.”
Unfortunately, Davis said, many Sampsonians, particularly teenagers, aren’t at that point. Thus the need for a more focused campaign that will re-enforce that Click It or Ticket notion.
“The campaign will be going on throughout the county, with an increased emphasis on seat belt and child restraint usage,” Davis said, stressing that enforcement will include checkpoints both during the day and in the evening.
With May also the month where the highest number of teen fatalities generally occur, enforcement will also focus on younger drivers.
“There are so many teenagers who don’t buckle up. That 71 percent is pretty significant,” Davis said.
Education, he believes, is helping. At Clinton High, he stressed, Tracy Jackson, the Police Department’s drug expert, provides lessons on impaired driving and well as safe driving, which includes the use of seat belts and child restraints.
And, Davis said, his plan includes approaching city school officials about a new Click It program that requires students to sign a seat belt pledge at the same time they sing up for their school parking permit.
Though not yet approved, the program would allow police to monitor student parking lots, watching for seat belt violators. Those not abiding by the pledge they signed would be written up, with punishment going against their parking privileges.
“It would be a way of getting their attention,” Davis stressed.
And that, really, is the key to the entire Click It campaign — waking people up to the realities of seat belt use, or the lack of it.
Even though Sampson has a fluctuating figure of 86-88 percent seat belt usage, Davis said the idea was to increase that number to 92 percent.
Doing that could easily mean reducing the number of fatalities or serious injuries due to crash ejections.
Saving only one life, convincing one person to use their seat belt, Davis said, would make the campaign worth it.
“We’ll be out there and we’ll be enforcing the law,” Davis said.