VALDOSTA -- The "Click It or Ticket" campaign sponsored by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and the Greater Lowndes Coalition of Highway Safety will kick off with a rally at 9 a.m. May 19 at the Lowndes County Middle School.

"The mission of the Click It or Ticket is to demonstrate a unified effort by state and local agencies conducting periodic seatbelt and child safety seat enforcement," said Dr. Ronnie Mathis, regional coordinator of the Greater Lowndes Coalition. "Ultimately the multi-agency enforcement effort should result in higher use rate, which would help save more lives."

In 1999, Gov. Roy Barnes appointed Mathis to educate Lowndes County on highway safety. In 2001, he was asked to be the regional coordinator over nine counties.

Mathis is also the pastor at the Greater Pleasant Temple Baptist Church, and part of his driving force is his congregation and the highway. "In order for me to deal with the soul of man, the body must arrive safely," Mathis said. "I don't get into a car without buckling up. I try to teach my parishioners to drive smart and buckle up."

The leading cause of death of people from ages 4-33 across the country is from motor vehicle crashes. A major factor contributing to those deaths is the failure to use seat belts and child safety seats, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Georgians ages 1- 35, the Centers for Disease Control said. Last year, 321 U.S. military personnel were killed as a result of traffic crashes. Many of them might have survived if they had worn their seat belts.

The Click It or Ticket is working with the law enforcement crackdown, Mathis said. With the support of community leaders, schools, nonprofit organizations and faith communities to persuade motorists to buckle up, seatbelt use is at a rate of 78 percent. Another improvement is that child safety restraints are being used at a rate of 90 percent. Since the crackdowns began in 1997, child fatalities have fallen 20 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"Seat belts don't prevent crashes, but they do prevent injuries," Mathis said.

While Mathis helps educate the public in highway safety, law enforcement agencies across the state will be doing their part to ensure motorist are buckling up.

"It's a joint effort with all law enforcement agencies across the state," Deputy Jim Griffin, Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, said.

Motorist may see local or area road blocks during the campaign that is scheduled to end at midnight on June 1. That runs during the Memorial Day weekend, Griffin said.

Law enforcement officers will checking to see if seat belts are being used and whether child restraint devices are also being used properly. "Parents can set the example for their children by letting their children see them buckle up," Griffin said.

During the Memorial Day weekend, law enforcement officials urge motorists to buckle up, secure their children, observe the speed limit, drive defensively and plan ahead for delays. For example, be aware of construction on highways where you plan to travel. Memorial Day is notorious for high traffic and traffic crashes.

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