RICHMOND—Traffic safety campaigns promoted by DRIVE SMART Virginia have had a quantifiable impact on roadway users since the nonprofit’s founding in 1995, resulting in fewer fatalities.
DRIVE SMART Executive Director Janet Brooking said the organization’s messages remain consistent, reminding drivers to practice safe, distraction-free driving. She met with the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors at their March 22 meeting ahead of Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.
DRIVE SMART was founded primarily to promote seat belt use. At the time, only 58% of U.S. motorists wore seatbelts.
“That’s just hard to believe now,” Brooking said. “By 2005 it was 82% nationally. Now it’s 90%.”
There is no primary enforcement law in Virginia regarding seatbelt use. If a law enforcement officer sees a motorist driving unrestrained, they can’t act without another reason to conduct a stop.
“What are lawmakers’ reasons for not making this a primary offense?” asked Justin Pence, a VFBF board member from Shenandoah County.
For some, it comes down to concerns of government overreach, Brooking explained. “They don’t want to legislate inside the vehicle in general,” she said, adding that racial profiling has been voiced as a concern as well.
“But seatbelts are your most valuable defense against an impaired or distracted driver,” Brooking said. “In Virginia, we’re up 2% in traffic fatalities, and 45% of them were unrestrained.”
Speeding also has become an issue since the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted.
“We speculate there were fewer people on the road during COVID, and there were fewer impediments to get where you’re going,” Brooking continued. “And we didn’t see as much law enforcement on the roads for a number of reasons.”
Of the many awareness campaigns rolled out by DSV, “Buckle Up, Phone Down” is the message for Distracted Driving Month. Handheld phone use is now banned while driving, and the messaging is intended to educate Virginians on the law.
VFBF board members also asked about campaigns regarding slow-moving vehicles, tractor-trailer safety, and the emergence of more cyclists on rural roads. Brooking said there are options to revive or create more campaigns to spread awareness about safely sharing the road.
“There’s a lot of different constituents that need to be considered, but Janet always focuses on the positives and gets people together to achieve these common goals,” said Bob Brown, executive vice president of Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. “And Virginia Farm Bureau will continue to support those efforts.”
To request free traffic safety materials, call 804-323-3200 or visit drivesmartva.org for outreach toolkits.