RICHMOND, Va. -- State police are urging Virginians to buckle up this holiday season, citing multiple fatal crashes that happened over the Thanksgiving weekend, where a driver or passenger was not wearing a seat belt.
According to police, 14 people, including three pedestrians and one motorcyclist, lost their lives on Virginia highways between midnight, Nov. 23 and midnight, Nov. 27. Of the 10 individuals riding in vehicles equipped with seat belts, eight chose not to wear one.
DRIVE SMART Virginia says data collection suggest about 20% of Virginia drivers are not wearing their seat belt on a regular basis.
“It’s such common sense to buckle up," said Janet Brooking with DRIVE SMART. "It doesn’t cost anything. It’s bizarre to me that some people still, that some people just don’t do it.”
Data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles suggests it's happening more often on rural and non-interstate highways. In 2021, 282 fatalities from crashes involving safety restraints, were on non-interstate roadways. On rural roadways, there were 228, a 1.3% increase over 2020.
“If we look at who’s dying on our roadways, it’s the 18- to 34-year-old male, rural living, and literally pick-up driving. They’ve isolated it down to the fact that they're pickup drivers," Brooking said.
Brooking said there are multiple reasons why some people may not wear their seat belt. Although many newer vehicles will sound an alarm if a seat belt is not on while the car is in motion, Brooking said she believes some people are buckling their seat belts and then sitting on them or waiting until the alarm goes off all together.
The DMV reports 54% of all fatal car crashes reported in the Commonwealth so far this year have involved someone who was not wearing a seat belt or safety restraint. That percentage is up from 47% in 2021.
Already seeing holiday travel trends early, Brooking says wearing a seat belt is the best defense against drunk or speeding drivers.
“Every day, you could be the best driver on the road, but you also have to be a defensive driver. You’ve got to anticipate other drivers’ behaviors. And you’ve got to be prepared. And the absolute best way to be prepared is to buckle up," Brooking said.
Brooking said, unfortunately, she and other seat belt safety advocates believe this trend will continue well into the new year. She also said DRIVE SMART and other agencies will likely have to alter their messaging to potentially change drivers' habits.
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