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LUMBERTON – The number of traffic deaths is on the rise again in Robeson County.

With preliminary 2021 figures showing another surge of highway deaths, members of the Robeson County Vision Zero task force say they are intensifying their education efforts that stress the importance of wearing seat belts. In addition, local and state law enforcement officers are participating in the Memorial Day Click It or Ticket enforcement campaign underway through early June.

A total of 24 people have died in vehicle crashes across Robeson County in the first four months of the year, according to preliminary figures compiled by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Mobility and Safety Division.

For the same period last year, 17 died.

“This is not the trend we want to see,” said Grady Hunt, who leads the task force as the area’s representative on the state Board of Transportation. “We have a problem with people not buckling up in Robeson County.”

Of the 24 highway deaths this year, 58% were not buckled up – compared to 40% of traffic deaths for the first four months of last year.

Speed-related deaths in the county are also up – 40% this year, compared with 24% last year.

“Keep in mind, four months is not a large sample, so there’s still time to reverse course,” Hunt said. “Each life matters, and we need to do all that we can to promote better driving habits.”

Last year, 53 died in crashes across Robeson County – a 23% increase over 2019. North Carolina and the United States saw similar spikes last year.

This month, the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) launched a marketing campaign in Robeson County that emphasizes the importance of buckling up. The campaign features “Local Heroes” public service announcements of law enforcement in Lumberton sharing brief experiences about investigating crashes and wanting to save lives. The video can be found at the top of the GHSP YouTube playlist.

To reach more residents, GHSP Director Mark Ezzell recently has conducted interviews with newspapers, TV and radio stations in Robeson County about the importance of buckling up.

The seat-belt usage rate in Robeson County has fallen the last two years from 89.5% in 2018 to 78.3% last year. Workers will fan out across the state, including in Robeson County, next month to conduct a post seat-belt survey.

The task force, which formed in 2017 with a cross-section of community leaders, has sought to change the driving behavior as it relates to the use of seat belts. It received GHSP grants to purchase and display banners on the county’s transit bus system and to implement the Seat Belt Safety Classes through Southeastern Health.

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