What will convince Vermont drivers to buckle up?

Published: Aug. 8, 2017 at 4:50 PM EDT
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"Drivers do your job," Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison said.

Bridport, Brownington, Springfield, South Royalton and Milton: five crashes and eight fatalities since Saturday. The sudden spike in deadly collisions sparked law enforcement to try to send a message to Vermonters.

"These crashes should be a stark reminder to all of us who drive in Vermont of our responsibility to driver safety," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson said.

The recent wrecks bring the total number of deaths on Vermont roads to 38 and 40 if you count ATVs. Sixteen were not wearing seat belts, including the four killed in the Bridport crash.

"If you are the driver of a vehicle, insist on seat belts for all occupants," Morrison said.

What's alarming here is that the state has seen the number of fatal crashes rise steadily since 2014 when 44 people died on Vermont roads. In 2015, that number jumped to 57. Last year, 62 people were killed.

These latest crashes put the state on track for similar numbers this year. Last year at this time, we saw 38 fatal wrecks. And we're there this year, too.

"As of today, we have two more traffic fatalities than we did at this point in 2016," Vt. State Police Lt. John Flannigan said.

Police are promising more patrols but Vermont doesn't allow police to pull someone over for not wearing a seat belt. It's a secondary offense, meaning a driver must be pulled over for something else first. State Police won't say if they would support upping the seat belt law to a primary offense.

"That's not going to be the be-all and the end-all to change driver behavior if we have a mandatory seat belt law or not a mandatory seat belt law," Anderson said.

State Police do say in states that allow people to be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt, usage goes up by about 5 percent. So, in Vermont, where 84.5 percent of people buckle up, that number could go to nearly 90 percent.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, hasn't supported primary seat belt laws in the past. But he told us in a statement that he's asked for more data, and if the trend continues, he is not ruling out a change to seat belt laws.