In a news release distributed this week, TxDOT unveiled statewide figures from 2018 and found that of the 264 teens killed in crashes that year, more than half (111) were unrestrained. Vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of deaths among teenagers across Texas and the country.

In respect to those numbers, Texas Department of Transportation has a message for teen drivers about the importance of the seat belt.

“For teens, getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage, but when they start driving, they aren’t thinking about how their lack of experience places them at greater risk of getting in a crash,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said in the release.

May 2020 will mark the 18th anniversary of TxDOT’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which reminds all vehicle occupants to buckle up or face the consequences. Texas law requires drivers and all passengers — including those in the back seat — to wear a seat belt. Violators can face fees and fines of up to $200, but TxDOT said the real gamble in going unbuckled isn’t losing money — it’s losing one’s life.

“Seat belts prevent drivers and passengers from getting ejected from a vehicle, which is almost always deadly,” TxDOT said. “Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a crash by 45 percent.”

After 17 years of Click It or Ticket campaigns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the program has saved some 5,800 lives, prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries and saved the state $21.7 billion in related economic costs.

To reach young drivers specifically, TxDOT will also launch a Teen Click It or Ticket campaign in the months ahead. Dates and locations have not yet been announced, but TxDOT said the campaign will feature six stops at high schools across the state. Students will be invited to participate in activities and virtual-reality simulations, but will also have the chance to see real wreckage which two teens walked away from, thanks to seat belt use.

“Tragedy can strike in an instant, which is why we hope all parents, teachers and other influencers are urging teens to buckle up each and every time no matter how short the trip may be,” Bass said.

For more information on the campaign, visit https://www/ and search “Teen Click It or Ticket.”

Drew Smith is the crime and emergency reporter for the herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith@heralddemocrat.