Buckle Up! Bennington Police Department Teams Up with VT State Highway Safety and Neighboring States to Promote Traffic Safety

buckle-up speakers
Buckle Up! 

On Monday, May 20, dozens of law enforcement personnel, highway safety staff, workers in industries interested in traffic safety, NY students from S.A.D.D., and students from the Bennington Drivers Education programs, all met with one purpose… to build awareness of seatbelt use to save lives.

This annual event is held in different locations around the State and this year was located at the Vermont Welcome Center in Bennington on Route 279. The event was organized by Lt. Grande of the Bennington Police Department, and included partners from New York, Massachusetts, as well as Vermont. Bennington’s location adjacent to both NY and MA highlights the importance of cross-border cooperation.

The event opened with a welcome by Paul White, VT State Highway Safety Office, and was followed by four other speakers; Mary Morrissey, VT State legislative representative for Bennington; Justin O’Conner, Director of the NY Governor’s Traffic and Safety Committee;  Jonathan Herrick, Division Traffic Services of the New York State Police; and Chief Doucette of the Bennington Police Department. White accurately predicted that a repeating theme for all of the speakers would be that wearing seat belts saves lives. He noted that the effort for multiple states coordinating on traffic safety began in 1993 in North Carolina, and by 2001 the campaign had grown to eight states. By 2002, 15 more had joined, including Vermont. As of today, all US states currently are participating in the effort. In Vermont, the program has been renamed to “Buckle Up!” but the mission is the same: to reduce traffic fatalities by having everyone wear their seat belts. 

The first day of the event is also dedicated to border to border, or B2B efforts, to highlight coordination efforts between the states. A key point is that while we are not one state, we all have the one same issue… safety. White noted that this is especially important as the Memorial Day travel weekend approaches. The awareness campaign runs from May 20 until June 2.

buckle-up eventMary Morrissey spoke next and noted the 23 years that Vermont has been participating in “Click it or Ticket” …now renamed in Vermont as “Buckle Up!” She noted how great it was to have students from NY and VT participating in the event. She reiterated the sobering statistic that while 90% of VT drivers wore a seatbelt, 60% of those who died in motor vehicles in recent years were not wearing seat belts. “Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective way to protect yourself” says Morrissey. “It could be YOUR life you save.”

Director O’Conner from the NY Governors Traffic and Safety Committee echoed that key point. “Something as simple as buckling up is the difference between life and death” said O’Connor. “Safety does not stop at the border, which highlights the need for B2B coordination.” O’Connor went on to note that the two week effort is not about writing citations, but rather about saving lives by reminding the public to buckle up. NY was the first state to require seat belts, and their use is the best way to stay alive. 

Officer Jonathan Herrick of the Division Traffic Services of the New York State Police talked about the B2B initiative to enforce compliance in border areas, and noted the importance of youth at this awareness event. “The decision to wear a seat belt is literally a life or death decision” says Herrick. “Since the start of 2024, 34 people in NY have died while not wearing a seatbelt.” This, at the start of the summer travel season is sobering, as the 100 days of summer are also called the “100 deadly days of summer” in recognition of the summer increase in traffic fatalities. “We want everyone to reach their destination” said Herrick.

The final speaker was Chief Doucette, of the Bennington Police Department. He noted that in addition to seatbelt use, officers will be on the lookout for drivers under the influence, speeding, distracted driving, and other motor vehicle infractions as part of the effort. “It’s not just the front seat occupants” Doucette noted, “seatbelts are required for all occupants of the vehicle, including young children and infants.” He noted that while cars are being designed to be safer… they do so in part because vehicle makers assume you to be wearing a seat belt. For Doucette, this is personal. “Thirty years ago I was T-boned by a drunk driver. Wearing a seat belt saved my life. I had to undergo surgery, physical therapy, and lost 10 and a half months while recovering …today I have a great family but none of that could have happened if I was not wearing a seat belt.” Doucette ended by reminding us all to do our part; wear a seatbelt, put down your phone, don’t put your car into drive without buckling up. “You CAN get there safely!”

On hand at the event was the director of Safety from Peckham Industries and employees Dan Charlton, Jim Wilborn, and Kristina Bradway. As a company working frequently on roadways, they ask that motorists do their best to give them extra space, and to slow down in work areas. One brilliant idea was from the workers themselves; a vehicle that looks much like a police car was deployed with a radar screen showing vehicle speeds at work areas. When put into action, the vehicle had a tremendous effect — drivers instantly slowed down as much as 20 miles an hour making the area much safer for everyone. 

peckham workers buckle-upPeckham, along with many other businesses that have a presence on roadways, show the “Click it or Ticket” decal. This idea was the brain child of Al Fortin, of the Chittenden Sheriff’s office who first came up with the idea eight years ago. The stickers are now commonly seen and remain a valuable reminder for the public of the importance of wearing a seatbelt. 

The event ended with a competitions of youth from NY and VT to see who could buckle up the quickest, then switch seats and do it again until each student in a group of four had buckled up in each position in the vehicle. The goal was to be able to do so in less than a minute! By the end NY S.A.D.D. won the day at 43 seconds and celebrated with Louis Pratt, national president of S.A.D.D. who was on hand to cheer the students on. The VT students were not far behind with a very impressive finish at 48 seconds. The Bennington Police Department served lunch to the attendees and dessert was provided compliments of the Bennington Police Association.