Deadly crash on I-40 in Greensboro a reminder to wear seat belts

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Three people who were killed in a crash on Interstate 40 in Greensboro last week were not wearing seat belts, according to Greensboro police.

Seven people were inside an SUV when it crashed at about 3:30 a.m. on May 31. Police say the 18-year-old driver was taking family members to the airport.

Jorge Luis Fernandez-Torres, 33, Alejandra Chan-Carrasco, 34, and Irma Torres-Patino, 57, all of Mexico, were not wearing seat belts. They were ejected from the vehicle and died from their injuries.

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, seat belts save more than 560 lives in the state every year.

"Kids, young, teenagers, adults, old people, for God's sake put your seat belts on. Keep them on," said Donovan Crawford, who drove down I-40 on Tuesday.

In 2016, more than 450 people died in North Carolina because they didn't wear their seat belts. Another 600 people were seriously hurt. The NCDOT wants to brings those numbers to zero.

"I would encourage people on each and every trip, regardless where they're seated in the vehicle, to buckle up," said Don Nail, the director of the Governor's Highway Safety Program.

Crawford was driving from Virginia to Atlanta on Tuesday. He says he passed lots of drivers who weren't buckled up on his trip.

"We have to do it as an everyday, like we're having breakfast each morning. Are your seat belts on? I think it's critical," he said.

Crawford says he doesn't understand why people still drive without wearing their seat belts.

"Occasionally, I think people may just forget," Nail said. "Then there are the folks that think its their right, and the government shouldn't be telling then what to do."

But Nail says most people in North Carolina do use their seat belts; an NCDOT tally put it at more than 91 percent in 2016.

This month, crews will gather data for the 2017 percentage by recording the number of drivers who wear seat belts.

You'll see crews in 15 North Carolina counties -- including Alamance, Forsyth, Guilford and Wilkes counties -- counting drivers and their seat belt habits.

"They just hop in the vehicle and maybe they don't think about it, or they think, 'Well I'm just going to the store. It's just right down the road. I really don't need my seat belt.' But you never know when you might be involved in a crash," Nail said.

"When you think of the consequences of it, it's purely the right thing to do, the common sense thing to do," Crawford said.

Those who don't buckle up can learn something from crashes like this one on I-40.

"If they're not willing to do it for themselves, they really should think about the folks they might leave behind," Nail said.

Four people survived that fatal crash last week, including the 18-year-old driver. No charges have been filed in the crash.

Driving without a seat belt is against the law. If you are pulled over for the offense in North Carolina, law enforcement will write you a $179 ticket.