OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Advertisements began running on Oklahoma TV and radio stations Monday urging motorists to buckle up and stop the carnage that killed 769 people on the state's roads and highways in 1998.
"Oklahoma does not rank well when it comes to safety in the automobile," Gov. Frank Keating said as highway safety officials unveiled their new seat belt campaign at the start of Buckle Up, America! week.
"We do not buckle up as we should," Keating said.
Oklahoma ranks 43rd in the nation in seat belt usage, according to 1998 traffic safety statistics published by the Department of Public Safety.
Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks said 20 percent of unrestrained occupants of cars and trucks are ejected in collisions, and 75 percent of them are killed. Ricks said 99percent of people who wore seat belts were not ejected.
"We have too many people dying," Ricks said. A motorist dies every 11.4 hours in Oklahoma, and the cost of highway crashes and deaths is estimated at $1.5 billion a year, he said.
"There is no other alternative to a seat belt. Without a seatbelt, your life is at risk," Keating said.
The campaign, dubbed "What's Holding You Back, Oklahoma?", was paid for with a $1 million federal grant to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, Director Joe McDonald said.
The campaign consists of four television ads and three radio spots that illustrate the horror of highway collisions and the importance of wearing seat belts to prevent injury and death. Graphic art for newspapers and magazines is also part of the campaign.
The campaign will be accompanied by stepped up enforcement of Oklahoma's mandatory seat belt statute, officials said.
Gary Adams, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said wearing a seat belt is the "very best thing that we can do to reduce serious injury."
Georgia Chakiris, regional administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said not wearing seat belts is considered a "major public health problem."
Each year approximately 40,000 people are killed in collisions nationwide and thousands more are injured, Chakiris said.
"One of the biggest concerns we have are children who are unbuckled," she said.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among young people, she said.
One of the TV ads features children urging others to insist that their parents buckle up.
"Don't take no for an answer," one child says.
"If you buckle up, talk to others who don't buckle up," McDonald said.