ASHLAND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles launched a new campaign last month called the “Local Heroes Seat Belt Awareness Initiative,” which partners up with local law enforcement agencies to convince people to buckle up.
You may have seen social media videos with officers and deputies from Buchanan, Lee and Wise counties. Since they’ve been published, the videos have received more than 44,000 views on the DMV’s social media accounts, a DMV official says.
Right now, the DMV’s campaign is geared towards southwest because that’s where fewer people are wearing their seatbelts.
“However, the concern is real all the way across the state,” Dana Schrad, the Executive Director of the Association of Chiefs of Police, said. “We have a huge interstate system, and we are not only a travel destination but we are a travel pass-through state… We have to do everything as drivers and passengers to protect ourselves.”
A recent study shows 84 percent of Virginians wore their seatbelt last year. So far this year, 166 people have died in crashes that were not using a seatbelt. Four of those deaths were over the Fourth of July weekend.
The flashing lights after a crash is only the beginning for officers. It’s a difficult job to not only be at the scene but to be assigned to break the bad news to loved ones.
“I’ve only had to do it a few times in my career, and I can remember each one like it was yesterday,” Ashland Police Chief Doug Goodman said. “It’s one of the hardest things for a law enforcement officer to do. And one of the hardest things for a family to hear.”
Some may think it’s not necessary to wear on, but Chief Goodman says even his officers “click it” to make sure they’re safe every time they hit the road.
“Folks may feel like I’m only going on a 25 mile an hour street, I don’t have to put my seatbelt on for that little short trip,” Chief Goodman explained. “That’s where we’re seeing injuries.”
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police has also been educating law enforcement since 2011 about the need for these safety devices, through their campaign “Wear this, not this..”
The DMV’s “Local Heroes” initiative is being paid for by federal grants. A spokesperson says the department budgeted about $50,000 for it.