LUMBERTON – The N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program has awarded a $56,031 grant in Robeson County that officials hope will lead to more drivers and passengers buckling up.
It’s called a seat-belt diversion program, and it works by having local law enforcement issue more citations for people failing to wear seat belts. If it is a first seat-belt offense, people cited could take a two-hour educational class to have the citation dismissed. The idea is to encourage more seat-belt use in a county that has an average of 45 traffic deaths a year.
The grant was announced Thursday during a meeting of the Robeson County Vision Zero Task Force, which is a group of community stakeholders working to reduce traffic deaths. The grant was awarded to Southeastern Health, which will run the program and class. Robeson County had a similar program several years ago, but it was discontinued due to staffing constraints. The program will start in July.
The task force also reviewed some early recommendations for boosting safety on two corridors with high fatal traffic rates: a 12-mile section of N.C. 711 in the Pembroke area and a 15-mile section of Great Marsh Church Road near the Bladen-Robeson county line. On those two roadways, a combined 11 people have died in crashes over a recent five-year period.
Local agencies and community leaders began studying the routes earlier this year as part of a pilot project that involves the N.C. Department of Transportation and the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program. The corridors were identified to be part of a Rural Route Safety Initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association.
In April, two teams involving a total of 16 people drove the corridors and studied them. They represented a broad cross-section of the community, including law enforcement, local government, education, public health and emergency services – plus Zion Bill Baptist Church , NCDOT, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, and VHB consultants. On Thursday, they provided these observations and preliminary recommendations:
- Between 32 and 37 percent of the people in the vehicles were not wearing seat belts.
- Identify areas where pavement markings, shoulders and curves can be improved.
- Build more partnerships with businesses, churches, public health and other agencies to develop grassroots safety messages.
Robeson County has high rates of deadly crashes involving people speeding, drinking and driving and not wearing seat belts. But those figures are beginning to improve. Last year, when the task force began its mission, the number of traffic deaths dropped to 48. The death toll was 53 in 2017.
“We know building partnerships and collaborating with many people are going to be very important as we work to drive down these numbers and save lives,” said Grady Hunt, the task force’s chairman and a member of the state Board of Transportation. “We have to make safety a common discussion throughout this county.”
The Robeson County Vision Zero Task Force is a unique coalition involving several major organizations and other institutions across the county seeking to change driver behavior and save lives.
In other business, the task force heard a report from Tracy Anderson, who is a researcher at N.C. State’s the Institute for Transportation Research & Education. She is also the program coordinator for the N.C. Vision Zero, which is working with five other communities that have a similar mission as Robeson County: Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro and Wake Forest.
Anderson said Vision Zero is a shift away from traditional approaches and instead an examination of all of the factors that lead to traffic fatalities. Those factors include policy and legislative changes and cultural changes.
“The communities that have adopted a safe systems approach to traffic safety have seen great results,” Anderson said. “To eliminate roadway deaths and serious injuries, we must take a broader perspective. Our vision of zero traffic deaths is equally reliant on safer road design, safer vehicles and safer road users.”