RICHMOND, Va. -- The Memorial Day holiday weekend will be the busiest since before the pandemic started over two years ago, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
That is why the agency is partnering with local law enforcement, state police and Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue a warning to drivers to buckle up as part of the annual Click It or Ticket campaign.
DMV Director of Highway Safety John Saunders called the number of deaths on Virginia highways last year "unacceptable."
"Last year 969 people died on Virginia, the highest number of deaths in 14 years," Saunders said.
Saunders said that at least a third of those deaths might have been prevented with the proper use of a seat belt.
In fact, one of every two vehicle fatalities (48%) involved people not wearing safety restraints, officials said. The 21-to-35 age group accounted for 32% of the unrestrained fatalities, and the highest number of unrestrained fatalities (51%) occurred between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Officials also pointed out that teen crashes spike dramatically in the summer. Parents can be the best line of defense in helping young drivers navigate the roads. That starts by making sure they see you buckle your seat belt every time you get in the car.
And the numbers for preventable deaths could be even higher for children in car seats.
"It can make a huge difference,” Corri Miller-Hobbs with Safe Kids Virginia said. “Having a car seat, using it correctly can reduce risk or injury and death by 71%, so that is significant."
Virginia's seat belt use rate is 81.7%, according to the most recent statewide seat belt survey conducted in 2021. That is compared to the national average of 89.7%.
“Buckling up is among the most important things you can do to protect yourself and others in a vehicle,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Morgan Dean said. “Modern cars are loaded with safety features that weren’t available just a few years ago. Those systems work in conjunction with a seat belt. That’s why it’s so important to buckle up, everyone, every time.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic expects Virginia roads to be the busiest in the last two years with roughly one million Virginians traveling by car over the holiday weekend.
As a result, law enforcement will conduct "saturation patrols and high-visibility enforcement" along busy roads and highways, and specifically along the Route 60 corridor, in an effort "to save lives," DMV officials said.