In just two-days, America will celebrate the 237th Fourth of July holiday but Rev. Dr. Walter B. Johnson, Jr., CEO of the Alliance for Community Peace, a bevy of ministers and Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) officials Tuesday warned motorists to buckle up including those driving while â€œIn-text-icatedâ€ or youâ€™ll be pulled over, ticketed and perhaps jailed.
Officials said most of those who died in traffic crashes in Chicago were black and Hispanic males between the ages of 18-34. They were not wearing seat belts. This same age group doesnâ€™t equate drinking and driving with death, and this coalition is hoping to change that mindset.
That was the stern message delivered at a press conference held at the True Light Church Baptist, 7300 South Maryland headed by Rev. Dr. LaRue F. Kidd. Joining him were Rev. Dr. Johnson, Andre B. Ashmore, Deputy Secretary, (IDOT), Rev. Phyllis D. Harrell, COO, Director, Alliance for Community Peace, Rev. Dr. Walter Turner, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Chicago & Vicinity, Rev. Dr. Barbara Wilson, President of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Ministerial Alliance of Chicago Vicinity and many others.
Referring to the partnership between IDOT and the Alliance For Community Peace holiday program, Rev. Johnson said their goal is to get the message of â€œdriving sober or get pulled over,â€ buckling up and no texting while driving to young African American males and people of color.Â
Given what is going on in society and in the communities, Pastor Turner said, â€œIt is not just bullets. Itâ€™s just not knives but now even cars are weapons, and we need to make sure as we celebrate this great holiday of independenceâ€¦of freedom, the Fourth of July also represents for our country that we were able to take ownership.
â€œWe need to take ownership of our lives so that we need to make sure that each and every individual when they get behind the wheel of a car they will know it is a privilege to drive, a privilege to be able to on the roadâ€¦,â€ Turner said. Looking at the 18-34 at risk black men â€œthat are being loss just through driving, we need to continue this campaign for community awareness. Itâ€™s time for us to take it to the street.â€
Rev. Dr. Kidd expressed great concern over the Smart Phones because many do some â€œdumb thingsâ€ with these cell phones. â€œIâ€™ve come to discover that not only people are driving intoxicated but they are also driving in-texticated because they are texting while driving.â€ He urged motorists not to drive and text at the same time. Kidd also said he has seen motorists using their cell phones to take pictures while driving.
On behalf of Gov. Pat Quinn, Ashmore said last year 956 people died from traffic crashes. â€œThe loss is too great for our communities and too great for the state of Illinois as a whole. Between 2009-2011, a total of 234 occupants of passenger cars died in traffic crashes in Chicago.â€
He said of total fatalities 119, or 51 percent were African Americans and 53 were Hispanics. â€œSeat belt usage rates among African Americans and Hispanics who died in traffic crashes were 17 percent and 24 percent respectively mostly involving male drives between the ages of 18-34,â€ said Ashmore.
â€œThese deaths and others across the state are the reasons why the IDOT displays current traffic related fatality numbers on our interstate digital boards every day,â€ Ashmore said. Though Illinois has a number of programs reminding drivers to drive safely, Ashmore said unfortunately there are still an average of 80 deaths a month.
That is why IDOT has initiated the â€œSafe Communities for Illinoisâ€ program to address this problem that provides funding for minority communities to develop safe driving programs especially around holidays. Ashmore wants the messages to target the at-risk drivers.
For the July 4th holiday, Ashmore warned state troopers will be out in force looking for seat belt violators and drunk drivers especially during late night hours. Hundreds of seat belt enforcement zones will be conducted across Illinois during a ten-day campaign half of them at night when most die in crashes. â€œDrive sober or get pulled over or click it or ticket it,â€ he said.
â€œWe understand that this initiative is about individual and collective responsibility, and we are encouraging all of our clergy, our laity, young and old to take ownershipâ€ during this holiday but in a responsible way, said Rev. Dr. Wilson who urged people to assign a designated driver if they are drinking or to drive sober.
Peeling off the disturbing statistics of accidents, Rev. Harrell said black and Hispanic vehicular and alcoholic related fatalities are higher than the statewide average.
According to Rev. Harrell, a new bill was passed that bans texting or the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. â€œYou must use a blue tooth or cordless but both hands must be on the steering wheel.â€ Failure to do so will get you pulled over, ticketed and perhaps jailed.
The Alliance for Community Peace program is designed to help local communities develop creative and comprehensive public education programs during the IDOTâ€™s major safety belt and alcohol campaign, according to Harrell.
â€œThe goal of this program is to reduce injuries and fatalities among at risk males ages 18-34 within the city of Chicago, increase seat belt usage rate among the demographics, increase awareness of the division of traffic and safety and the available material and programs through the IDOTâ€¦,â€ said Harrell.
She said the goal is also help local agencies and communities incorporate IDOT and the Division of Traffic Safety (DTS) messages and programs into their communities especially in Chicago.
Laying out some startling statistics, Rev. Harrell said young males ages 18-34 represent one-third of the 955 people who died on Illinois roadways last year or 317 deaths. She said an average of alcohol impaired driving fatalities include an average of about 0.8 or higher blood alcohol level.
In 2011, Harrell said there were 9,878 fatalities in the U.S. involving drivers who were legally drunk with an alcohol blood count level of 0.8 or higher. Also, in the same year, 6,507, or 66 percent of those died from being drunk with alcohol. Vehicular occupants who died included 2,661, or 27 percent and 710 or 7 percent who were non-occupants who were hurt outside of the cars.
Referring to 2012, Harrell said it was a very dangerous year in Illinois where fatalities increased by four percent. So far this year, Harrell said there have been 957 deaths for Illinois for 2011.
â€œToday, we have an issue. Traffic fatalities increased 17 percent statewide from January to July last year compared to the same year in 2011.â€
Since July 5, 2012 when the message boards started listing the death tolls through December 31st, Harrell said there were 478 roadway deaths in 2012 compared to 500 during the same period of time. However, Harrell said the number of crash fatalities from January until today is 468. â€œThe message still needs to be proclaimed from the pulpit, from the communities, from the residents that the message that drinking and driving is not kosher.â€
Harrell urged pastors and community people to educate the at-risk group of motorists and said the safety check campaign runs from 6 p.m., July 1, 2013, to 5:59 a.m., July 5, 2013. Harrell said from 2008-2012, 2,443 people died in Illinois.â€œ That number is too high,â€ she said. â€œPlease drive safely, seat belt safe. Clickit or ticket it, and please drive sober during this holiday. Weâ€™d like to see you around.”
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.