With Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial kickoff of the busy summer driving season just days away, members of law enforcement are issuing an urgent plea to drivers.
They are asking drivers to buckle up, keep their speeds down, stay sober and put down electronic distractions.
Regarding the value of seat belt use, Vermont State Police pointed to a case this month in Bolton, where troopers say a woman was forced off Interstate 89 by a box truck when merging. The car flipped several times and landed on its roof in the median.
The 19-year-old driver walked away with just a minor wrist injury, and investigators attributed that to the fact she was wearing her seat belt.
"It's clear — the data show that if you wear your seat belt and you're in a crash, you are way more likely to survive than if you don't," said Chris Herrick, the deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety.
That message is being shared by law enforcement across the Northeast ahead of the busy Memorial Day weekend and start of the summer travel season.
"It's shocking to me how anybody could conceivably get into a car and not seat belt themselves in," said Chief George Merkel of the Vergennes Police Dept. "It takes a matter of seconds."
According to state records, of Vermont's 69 crash deaths in 2017, 24 involved unbelted drivers or passengers.
So far in 2018, the state has seen 13 motor-vehicle-related deaths, according to Vermont State Police. More than half of them have involved unrestrained motorists, said Lt. John Flanigan, the commander of the Vermont State Police's safety programs.
In at least some of those cases, police believe buckling up could have been a game-changer, along with other simple safety steps.
"People need to be mindful of speed limits, aggressive driving, distracted driving, the use of electronic devices, and impaired driving," said Joe Flynn, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. "These are all terrible problems that we share: New York, Vermont, Quebec, all of New England."
A bill that proposed stricter enforcement of Vermont seat belt rules stalled in the state senate this year, but lawmakers are expected to bring it up again next year.