In May, an unusual and powerful memorial was raised at the northwest corner of the University Hospital campus — a stark collection of 929 white pairs of “ghost shoes” arranged on bleachers.
The Texas Department of Transportation partnered with the Level I trauma team at University Hospital for a news conference kicking off its 16th annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign. As in past years, Texas law enforcement officers aggressively ticketed unbelted drivers and passengers during the two-week period that began Memorial Day weekend.
And the shoes? Each pair represented an unbuckled life lost across the state in 2017 — a grim reminder of what was at stake. Among the speakers was Dr. Mark Muir, trauma medical director at University Hospital, and Jennifer Northway, director of University Health System’s adult and pediatric injury prevention program.
“We treat everything from broken bones, spinal cord injuries, skull fractures and brain injuries, internal bleeding – and that’s just a small selection of the things we deal with every single day here at University Hospital,” Dr. Muir said. “We see what happens when bodies are thrown around inside a vehicle, when heads hit dashboards, or worst of all, when people are thrown out of vehicles. So many could have been prevented if people had remembered to buckle their seatbelts.”
Perhaps the most powerful speaker was David Mills of Spring, Texas. Mills, alongside his wife Wendy, recalled losing their 16-year-old daughter Kailee in a crash just a few blocks from home. Their daughter, a passenger in the car, had unbuckled her seatbelt to take a selfie when the car veered off the road and crashed. She always wore her seatbelt, her parents said. Dr. Muir noted that roughly one-in-four of the 1,800 car crash patients University Hospital received from throughout South Texas in 2017 was unbuckled. Within the San Antonio city limits in 2017, 65 motor vehicle crashes resulted in 24 unrestrained occupants being killed and another 54 sustaining serious injuries.
When “Click It or Ticket” launched in 2002, only 76 percent of Texans used their seat belts. Today nearly 92 percent buckle up. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that since its inception, the campaign has saved 5,473 lives, prevented more than 95,500 serious injuries and saved Texas more than $20.7 billion in related economic costs.
Texas law requires everyone in a vehicle to wear seatbelts. Children younger than 8 years must be in a child safety seat or booster seat unless they’re taller than 4 feet 9 inches.
University Hospital serves as one of two Level I trauma centers for adults in our region, and is the only Level I pediatric trauma center and burn program in South Texas.