LUMBERTON — While North Carolina readies for its annual Labor Day Booze It and Lose It campaign, local and state officials sat down Thursday morning to work on reducing road deaths in Robeson.
In 2017, alcohol was only the third leading cause of road fatalities in the county, which has the deadliest roads in North Carolina. Excessive speed outranks alcohol, and lack of seat belt use is the No. 1 preventable cause of highway deaths in Robeson.
Vision Zero met at the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center with the goal of reducing unnecessary road deaths in the county. A grassroots project that is unique to Robeson County, it is led by Grady Hunt, a local attorney and member of the North Carolina Board of Transportation.
Vision Zero membership includes law enforcement, churches and educators. Among the 75 people in attendance Thursday were The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Chancellor Robin Cummings, Robeson Community College President Kimberly Gold and Public Schools of Robeson County Superintendent Shanita Wooten.
Annually, Robeson County averages 43 highway deaths, which are widely scattered out across the county’s rural roads. Fifty-three people died in 2017, according to Bruce Siceloff, communications coordinator for Vision Zero at the state Department of Transportation.
Over the past five years, 70 people died in alcohol-related crashes, 62 because of excessive speed and 84 died without seat belts fastened. No age group or demographic is exempt.
Robeson County has recorded 30 highway deaths so far in 2018 and is on track for 45 fatalities, Hunt said
“When I first saw the numbers, it made an immediate impression on me,” Hunt said. “This is not a good trend for Robeson County.
“These fatalities are people that we know,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about all of us in Robeson County.”
County District Attorney Johnson Britt said Robeson County’s major highways are not the place where the majority of road fatalities occur. He made a plea for churches to join in the campaign and for tougher penalties in court.
“If you look at the map, it’s not I-95 and U.S. 74,” Britt said. “It’s the secondary roads in rural communities, and there is a church at the center of these communities.
“We had a fatality of a passenger in a car driven by a young person who had five speeding tickets, which were all reduced to speedometer error. It is not popular with attorneys, but we need to address this.”
The Vision Zero communications plan was rolled out Thursday. It includes printed materials, website, public contacts and social media.
Vision Zero has made an appearance at Lumbee Homecoming and at UNCP, where a public relations class produced a social media program. The university created the Twitter hashtag #Hero4Zero and a seat belt Facebook campaign titled “Elf on a Belt.”
A number of county hot spots for accidents were discussed with county leaders and Transportation Department’s regional engineers. They answered questions and discussed future road safety measures.
The Booze It and Lose It program brought its rolling check point RV. It is a one-stop shop for processing suspected drunken drivers. The vehicle has light towers, six stations to test for levels of intoxication and a magistrate’s office.
There were checkpoints established in Lumberton on Thursday night as the Booze It and Lose It campaign rolled in preparation for Labor Day.
Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]