Highway safety officials say the Thanksgiving holiday period is the day when the roads are stuffed — and the most deadly.

Adding fuel to the fire are those who do not buckle their seatbelts.

West Virginia LifeSavers is joining with other highway safety and law enforcement officials this month to strongly remind all drivers and passengers to always buckle up — every trip, every time. West Virginia LifeSavers consists of more than 600 police officers dedicated to saving lives through enforcement of seatbelt laws.

“Seatbelts clearly save lives,” said Roland S. Jones, state coordinator for West Virginia LifeSavers. “But unfortunately, too many Americans still put themselves at great risk by not always buckling up. We are reminding everyone this month to be sure to buckle up to prevent death or serious injury in event of a crash and to prevent receiving a citation.”

Fifty-five percent of those killed in traffic crashes during Thanksgiving weekend were not wearing seatbelts.

During the West Virginia LifeSavers seatbelt blitz in May, 2,500 citations were issued, Jones said. He believes no less than 3,000 will be issued this month.

Five or six years ago, West Virginia’s seatbelt usage was at 49 percent — the lowest in the nation, Jones said. He credits the education and enforcement of West Virginia LifeSavers, in place since July 1, 2003, and the Click it or Ticket campaign with raising the rate to 88.5 percent.

Enforcement efforts clearly saved the lives of one family, he noted. A husband, wife and their two sons living near the Ohio border were going on a routine shopping trip, and the married couple rarely wore seatbelts. However, they buckled up because they knew the Click it or Ticket campaign was going on, and they knew a neighbor had recently been cited.

On that trip, the family’s pickup truck was slammed in the rear by a drunk driver going 110 mph, Jones said.

“If it was not for that fear of citation, they would have not lived,” he said.

However, Jones said there is a “hardcore” group that will not buckle up. These people often say it is inconvenient, uncomfortable — or they just don’t like it.

Most in this group are men between 18 and 34 years old and drivers of pickup trucks, Jones said. The younger drivers, he believes, often have youth to blame.

Jones noted that although seatbelt violations are a secondary offense in West Virginia — meaning an officer has to pull someone over for another offense before issuing a seatbelt citation — having an unrestrained child in a vehicle is a primary offense.

— E-mail: apridemore@register-herald.com

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