Tennessee County Pilots Program Urging More People to Buckle Up

Posted On: November 5, 2015 under

Hawkins County, TN, has the dubious distinction of being an area of the state in which fatal car accidents have increased recently. It’s due to a factor that’s deceptively difficult to combat: lack of seatbelt use. The fateful decision not to buckle up has cost many people in Tennessee their lives over the past month alone, including Springfield man Richard Allison, 57, and Ashley Johnson, 27, and Igor Tavakalov, 50, whose cars collided near Mufreesboro. None of the three were wearing seatbelts when they died, and the injuries that killed them may have been avoidable if they had only buckled up.

Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Lt. Rick Garrison is fighting against exactly this sort of tragedy. As he points out, it takes mere seconds to put on the seatbelt that could save your life in a crash, and yet many people fail to do it. According to surveys he has done, on Highway 11W in particular, where the road is long and the speed limit high, the percentage of seatbelt users hovers around 60. This is a surprisingly low number, given the information we have available to us today about the dangers of driving unbuckled. Indeed, this choice not to use a seatbelt has proven deadly on multiple occasions for drivers along this stretch of highway, taking a toll on the entire community.

Although Garrison has no idea why so few people are buckling up, he and the THP, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will be using a $50,000 grant to increase law enforcement, education, and community involvement around this issue in both Hawkins and Bedford Counties. The enforcement angle will involve patrols and seatbelt checkpoints; the community aspect will try to get local leaders to push publicly for more seatbelt use. But Garrison is banking on the education piece of the program as being the most crucial to its success. As he says, the THP will “really inform people, go into schools, and increase awareness by showing people how to correctly restrain [themselves] and children in vehicles.” He says he has seen cases where children were killed because their car seats were old, faulty, or incorrectly used, and it was clearly a case of ignorance and not negligence that led to the tragedy.

Garrison admits that his goal for the program is lofty: it’s to have no deaths on Tennessee roads. “It’s a big challenge, but as long as we continue to work, maybe one day we’ll get there,” he says. It is certainly a goal worth pursuing, and hopefully the grant and THP’s partnership with the NHTSA will assist in reaching it.