According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 3,300 lives could have been saved each year if people had worn their seat belts. It's why law enforcement agencies across the country, including Roanoke County, participate in the Click It or Ticket campaign.
The agency just wrapped up its most recent enforcement period, which ran from May 20 - June 2. During that two-week span, they increased patrols, ran checkpoints, and targeted specific areas with heavy traffic. They also ran a public education campaign to raise awareness about the importance of seatbelts and the dire consequences for not wearing one.
"Seatbelts are obviously the best invention ever for traffic safety as far as we are concerned," said Roanoke County Police Sgt. Tim Wyatt, who is also a member of the Blue Ridge Transportation Safety Board. "It only takes two seconds to put your seatbelt on. We know emphatically that it saves lives."
During the enforcement period, Roanoke County Police issued approximately 1,000 traffic citations. More than 180 of them - nearly 20 percent - were for seatbelt violations.
"Even though it's just a two-week campaign with increased enforcement and increased education, 12 months out of the year, we're going to be out enforcing it," Wyatt said.
Wyatt says in spite of the numbers, they're seeing signs the Click It Or Ticket message is sinking in with people. To help measure the effectiveness of their campaign, police ran two surveys, one prior to May 20 and one after June 2. They went to the same location on the same day of the week at the same time during the day and chose a location where they stepped up enforcement during the two-week period.
They found that before the campaign, this area had an 84 percent seatbelt use rate. After, it jumped up to 90 percent.
Officers also monitored the roads around Roanoke County high schools and found after the campaign, high school students had a 92 percent seat belt use rate. Wyatt says they were pleased with the results, but that officers aren't getting complacent.
"Obviously there is more to be done," Wyatt said. "And obviously other locations in Roanoke County may not have as high of a seatbelt use rate. But that's no problem. We'll be there."
According to Virginia's Smart, Safe, and Sober Partnership, the statewide seatbelt rate is about 78 percent.