Friday, June 21, 2024

Saving Lives One Seatbelt at a Time

Christopher King with his mother, Christy. (Photo: Christopher King Foundation)

JAMES CITY COUNTY — In 2020, two weeks after graduating from Jamestown High School, Christopher King’s life was cut short by another driver’s reckless actions. Despite being one of four in the car that night, he was the only one not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the vehicle.

Since that tragic event, Christopher’s mother, Christy King has made it her mission to educate and bring awareness to the importance of seatbelts and the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers that occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Christy shares her mission of ‘saving lives one seatbelt at a time’ through the Christopher King Foundation, in memory of her son.

Christopher King (photo: Christopher King Foundation)

“If I can prevent one person from losing their life, and a parent from having to lose their child, that’s why I do this and share his story,” said Christy, “It’s how I keep going.”

Virginia law requires all front seat occupants of motor vehicles to be restrained, and any passenger from birth to 18 years old to be properly restrained in an appropriate child safety seat or seat belt, no matter their seating position.

However, Virginia seat belt laws for adults are only classified as a secondary enforcement, meaning a police officer must have some other reason for stopping you before they can issue a citation to either the driver or passengers for not wearing a safety lap belt or shoulder harness.

Christy has been actively working to get legislation passed to make changes to the law and classify seatbelts as a primary offense.

“Virginia is now the worst state in the country for seatbelt usage — at 75%. It’s insane. I have been working by reaching out to Senators and other legislators to help push for a seatbelt law changed to a primary or at least a stronger fine.” Christy explained, “The current seatbelt law was passed in the ’80s and the fine is just $25. If we raise the fine, maybe it will help people to remember to buckle up!”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, buckling your seat belt can reduce your risk of death in a crash by 45%.

From most recent statewide seat belt survey, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reports that 26.8% of Virginians were still not wearing a seat belt. Last year 54% of people killed in traffic crashes were unrestrained in a vehicle that had safety restraints — sobering statistics ahead of the upcoming holiday weekend’s expected rush. 

Now through June 2, DMV joins Virginia’s local law enforcement and State Police by participating in the national Click It or Ticket enforcement campaign.

“Buckling up when you get in the car is the easiest way to protect yourself in the event of a crash, and it only takes seconds,” said DMV Commissioner Gerald Lackey, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Last year, 335 unrestrained people died in crashes and there were over 1,400 serious injuries. These numbers show us that we need to continue spreading awareness about the importance of seat belts.” 

Law enforcement begins their high-visibility enforcement along busy roads today, working to save to lives. 

“Protect yourself and others by following the law and wearing your seatbelt,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police. “We want you to reach your destination safely and without injury. Virginia’s state troopers take occupant safety very seriously because we know seatbelts save lives. Simply put, click it or receive a ticket.” 

In addition to programs such as Click it or Ticket, Christy also works with government officials, local law enforcement and schools to help educate the community on seatbelt safety and help increase visibility regarding the importance of seatbelt usage.

Christy King (Christopher King Foundation)

“One of our proudest achievements has been the development of our own outreach programs, which now extend to high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, and even preschools. We firmly believe that by starting young and consistently reinforcing the message of buckling up and the dangers of distracted driving, we can effect positive change and save lives”, stated Christy on the foundation webpage.

In order to raise funds that help spread Christopher’s story and the message that seatbelts save lives the Christopher King Foundation started “Cars for Chris,” a local car show heading into its fourth year.

Scheduled for Saturday, June 22 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport, the foundation is still accepting all car makes and models to join the event. All money raised at the event is used to educate young drivers and spread the word that seatbelts save lives.

Christy encourages everyone, especially young drivers, to buckle up and make sure all car passengers are buckled properly. Taking extra caution during those 100 deadliest days.

“The numbers are amazing, if we just increase seatbelt usage by 8% — which does not even take us to the national average of 90% — we could save 70 lives a year in Virginia, over 700 serious injuries and $180 million dollars. And this is what I need legislators and lawmakers to know — this is a problem. We could save lives,” said Christy.

Visit the Christopher King Foundation for more information.

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