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Buckle up, Mid-South!

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If you're hitting the road for the holidays, be warned, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is looking for violators.

This year 679 people died in car crashes statewide. That's fewer than last year, but as chief consumer investigator Zaneta Lowe reports, one officer says it's still too many.

So he's taking a new approach to deliver the age old message: Seat belts save lives.

It's the first thing Sgt. Chris Richardson does when he gets in his patrol car.

"You have to prepare for the worst, and by doing that, the easiest thing you could do is just put on this seat belt," he said.

As the public affairs officer for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, he's knows we've heard it before and seen the Click It or Ticket signs and the other catchy slogans asking drivers to buckle up.

Richardson says, in part, it's working. Citations are up; fatalities are down.

"More and more, they're putting seat belts on, but sadly there's still a good number of the population that's not, and those are the ones that are ultimately dying in our crashes."

Richardson says nine in 10 Tennessee drivers actually wear seat belts, but the 10 percent who don't make up more than half the fatalities in crashes.

Unrestrained fatalities have decreased, but Richardson says more are preventable.

There's even a place on fatality reports asking, "in the officer's opinion, would safety restraints have made a difference?" He says it's often marked "yes."

"We rarely cut a dead person out of a seat belt," he said.

But Richardson says he doesn't want to scare people; you won't get one of those billboard-style messages from him.

His though, is quite clear: "Not wearing a seat belt is probably one of the most selfish things you could do."

Richardson says everybody has someone they'd like to go home to, and when that doesn't happen...

"I've had to do the death notifications, I've sat in these living rooms and absolutely cried with these people because I can empathize, I can see my family."

So Richardson asks that you imagine yours when you hit the road for the holidays, and maybe that will be reason enough to buckle up.

Seat belt citations are $25 for a first offense and $50 for the second.