During Labor Day weekend, millions of Americans hit the highways to get to their weekend vacation destinations. But many Blacks who took to the road likely weren't wearing seat belts, and that's a trend transportation officials are looking to throw in reverse.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the No. 1 leading cause of unintentional injury death for all African Americans is motor vehicle crashes. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for African Americans ages 1 to 14. And of those killed while passengers in a vehicle, 52 percent of Black children were not restrained at the time of the crash.
Though wearing a seat belt is the best way to avoid injury, Blacks are still failing to buckle up. The problem has become so severe that it has been declared a public health.
For the last two years, Synergy Enterprises and USDOT have teamed up to bring awareness to the issue and get more Blacks to buckle up and save lives. Project director Karen Braxton and corporate monitor Roy Walker say there are several reason why Blacks aren't buckling up.
"From what we've heard, there are people who don't think it's cool to wear seat belts," Braxton said. "They're also not comfortable for people who have weight issues and deal with obesity."
Braxton added that many parents are often confused about when to stop using car seats for small children. Parents also don't use car seats at all or just don't buckle up if they are just going a short distance. Walker said that fashionable styles of driving are also a factor.
"Some people think it's macho when they are leaning while driving a car. A lot of people also don't have faith in seat belts or they fear that they could be trapped in a crash."
Oftentimes, people purchase cars with seat belts that don't work and never get them fixed or replaced. Many car models have devices that alert drivers when their seat belts are not on with a constant audio signal. Braxton said some drivers go as far as breaking their seat belts to eliminate the noise without any guilt.
And while New York City residents rely heavily on public transportation, cab drivers could do more to ensure riders are wearing their seat belts.
In an effort to get the word out about seat belt safety, Walker said USDOT had partnered with several national Black organizations.
"We are partnering with 15 national organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women, the National Medical Association and the National Urban League," Braxton said. "The NAACP is also looking out for how to get the message out to their membership. Most of the organizations have taken a keen interest in the issues and are very surprised about the stats."
Walker said churches are also playing a vital role in the campaign - June 12 was deemed "Seat Belt Sunday," when Black church leaders spoke to their congregations about the importance of buckling up and provided them with the scary statistics. Announcements were also put in church bulletins.
"Everyone can have a role in being a hero by encouraging someone to do something as simple as buckle," said Walker.