On the morning of Monday, November 25, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, along with North Carolina Highway Patrol Commander Col. Glenn McNeill, North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director Mark Ezzell, and scores of representatives of the North Carolina Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies around the state made their way to the Weigh Station along I-40/I-85 between Efland and Buckhorn Road in Mebane. The occasion was the official kicking off of the North Carolina Highway Patrol’s annual Thanksgiving “Click it or Ticket” campaign.
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood opened the event by welcoming Governor Cooper and the various dignitaries onhand, while also giving some recognition to the individuals who work the local Weigh Stations on both sides of the freeway.
“I’ve got to say that everything that we use, eat, and buy comes to us by way of transport trailers. And this is often some of the most forgotten law enforcement officers in our force, at the weights and motors places here,” Sheriff Blackwood stated. “They’re doing a hard job, and I’m proud of the work that they do throughout the state to make sure that our roadways are safe.”
“It’s been said that many hands make life work,” Blackwood continued. “And I believe that’s true. You look around at all the partners that are here, and think about the fact that the law enforcement leaders have made a decision to be involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Mark Ezzell, (Governor’s Highway Safety Program Assistant Director) Cheryl Leonard and the other law enforcement representatives across the state have made it very easy to be part of something big.”
“I believe that we’re better trained, better prepared, and better equipped to do that work than we ever have been. We are totally committed to this endeavor, and the mission of MADD. And I appreciate the fact that all of you are here to help in this endeavor and support us as well. Thank you for supporting us.”
Ezzell indicated during his comments that of the 20 deaths that took place on North Carolina roadways during the Thanksgiving Holiday period in 2018, 13 of them involved individuals who were not wearing seat belts.
“It’s an honor to be here in Orange County with Governor Cooper and the other dignitaries we have here,” Ezzell said. “Our office works across North Carolina to keep our citizens safe. We do that in a variety of different ways, including this (Click it or Ticket) initiative around Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we have people in North Carolina who die on our roadways every day. Many of them are dying because of their failure to wear a seat belt. It’s tragic anytime this happens, but it’s especially tragic around the Thanksgiving Holiday.”
Governor Cooper praised the many law enforcement officers onhand, lauding their bravery and selflessness in performing their many job duties.
“Those brave men and women who patrol our highways, whenever they make a stop, they never know who may be in that car, or what danger may face them. And we’ve got to be grateful for those men and women every single day,” Cooper said. “I want to say to all the men and women of law enforcement, thank you for your courage. Thank you for working to enforce this law, to remind people to pay attention. And it’s not just seat belts. It is prevention of drunk driving. It is prevention of driving while texting, or driving while distracted, or driving while thinking about something else. When you’re out on that highway, not only can you put your own life in danger, but the lives of others, and the people who are riding with you.”
“We also lose law enforcement officers in the line of duty - sometimes on the highways trying to enforce those laws,” the Governor added. “Just last week, we lost a Sheriff’s deputy in Northampton County - Makeem Brooks - in the line of duty. To his family, and all the families of law enforcement that we have lost, we hope God will be with you during these holidays. And that family and friends will help you to remember the good things.”
The Governor indicated that in 2018, 1,440 lives were lost on North Carolina roadways.
“That’s 1,400 families who lost a loved one,” Cooper said. “People who lost friends. Communities that lost important people in their neighborhoods. Many of these tragedies were preventable, if people in the car would choose to buckle up. You know, during this Holiday season, it’s to be a happy time. But we know that some families will experience the tragedy of losing a life on our highways sometime over the holiday. There are ways to reduce these tragedies. It only takes a split second for a car accident to happen. But it only takes about two seconds to put on a seat belt.”
“Our Thanksgiving should be a time of celebration. So let’s do our part as we travel during this time of year, and make sure that everyone in our cars are wearing a seat belt,” the Governor concluded.
Col. McNeill, who leads the North Carolina Highway Patrol, said that in 2018, the agency investigated 355 fatal collisions where an occupant was inside a vehicle and had a seat belt provided to them, but they failed to use it, ultimately resulting in their deaths. Seven fatal collisions involved children who were not properly restrained in an approved car seat.
“That’s 362 total decisions, which affected 362 families,” McNeill said. “Causing devastation to 362 families forever. These statistics should be unacceptable for every law enforcement partner in North Carolina. We cannot discontinue our efforts to raise awareness of the importance of wearing seat belts and child restraint devices. Our mission is simple - ensure all motorists are adhering to our seat belt laws, and never waver until this mission is accomplished.”
“On behalf of the men and women of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, I take great privilege in joining each of you as we kick off and announce this important campaign. A campaign that has contributed to saving thousands of lives of motorists who travel on our highways to their intended destination,” McNeill continued. “We all share in a common mission. A mission to ensure public safety for all communities we so humbly strive to serve. One way we can jointly attain our mission is to consistently stress the importance of using a seat belt. The lifesaving took provided nearly everyone who travels on our roadways is far too often overlooked. Law enforcement is critical. But personal responsibility is even more important.”
North Carolina Highway Patrolman Bryan Jones spoke about a harrowing experience that took place approximately a year and a half ago - an experience that forever changed his perspective on wearing a seat belt.
“My last-second decision to buckle up on April 14, 2018 saved my life, my children’s life, and my family,” Jones said.
Trooper Jones was traveling along U.S. Highway 70 in Johnston County near the city limits of Clayton when he moved behind a stolen vehicle.
“I attempted to stop that vehicle, and a chase ensued. We traveled several miles throughout the county before the suspect’s vehicle traveled off the roadway. It came back onto the roadway and struck the left front quarter-panel of my patrol car,” Jones recalled. “Our cars locked, and we traveled into a deep ditch. Ultimately, my car turned upside down. I was suspended by my seat belt momentarily, but I was able to make a decision to escape the vehicle once the vehicle had stopped moving. I may not have had that opportunity had I not been wearing my seat belt that day.”
“My story is one of survival,” Jones added. “But many people don’t make the simple choice to buckle themselves up, or their children. I’m asking you to please buckle up in every seat, every time. A seat belt not only saved me from minor injuries, but it saved my life. Click it, or ticket.”
Highway Patrol officers will be out in force across North Carolina roadways over the next week, enforcing seat belt and other highway laws. Residents are encouraged to obey posted limits, wear their seat belts at all times, and avoiding driving while impaired, which happens regularly during Holiday seasons and puts thousands of North Carolinians along the state’s roadways in peril.