HARLINGEN — A replica of the car Kailee Mills died in sat upside down yesterday in front of the Texas Travel Information Center.
Her parents David and Wendy Mills, stood behind the podium, the car behind them and law enforcement standing nearby in support.
With a stern face and hopeful look, David spoke about the daughter he lost in 2017.
His wife Wendy by his side, David’s eyes showed sadness but his words were full of strength.
It was with that power, the Houston couple was here to launch the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign. It’s an effort to let people know the importance of seatbelts. It’s a lesson the couple knows well.
It has been less than two years since Kailee, who was a 16-year-old who attended Klein Collins High School, was killed in a tragic one-car rollover accident just 500 yards from her home. She didn’t have her seatbelt on.
Kailee always looked at the glass half full, according to her father. She was a positive girl who hoped to one day become a doctor.
She was a 4.3 GPA student. But, one night, she was riding in the back-seat with her friends and removed her seat belt for a moment to take a “selfie.”
During those few seconds the car veered off the road and began to flip.
Mills was ejected from the rear window and died instantly. Her three friends were wearing seat belts and survived the crash unharmed.
After the accident, the Kailee Mills foundation was formed to spread the message of the importance of wearing your seat belt.
Kailee’s mother said she believes it is important to talk about the subject in order to save lives.
“There were four teenagers in the car and they all survived with little cuts and bruises except for my daughter because she was the only one not wearing her seat belt,” Wendy said.
“If she had been wearing her seat belt, she would have been in the same position as them. It is such a hard loss to lose a child, so we’ve just really become seat belt advocates and stressing for people to always remember to always buckle so that they are not losing someone.”
Wendy and David hold school assemblies to speak about the subject and promote road safety.
Department of Public Safety Trooper Lt. Johnny Hernandez stressed the importance of wearing a seat belt as well.
“It is very important that they have these events to remind the public cause this has already been a law for a long time,” Hernandez said.
“As soon as you get inside that vehicle that driver should be saying ‘Is everybody buckled up?’ Because of the importance of saving lives, I just went to a roll-over just the other day and a lady grabbed my hand and said ‘Hey seat belts save lives’,” Hernandez affirmed.
“It saddens me that occurred but the parents are being proactive and notifying other parents of what could happen and it’s important to prevent other parents from going through the same thing he did.”
By the numbers
• Texas achieved 91.34% statewide seat belt use rate in 2018
• The “Click it or Ticket” initiative in Texas is estimated to have saved 5,856 lives, prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries, and saved more than $21.7 billion in related economic costs from 2002 to 2018.
• In 2018, there were 2,623 Texas crashes in which unbuckled people sustained fatal or serious injuries.
• 8.5 % of Texans are still not buckling up.
• 982 people died in 2018 for not buckling up. An increase of 6 percent from 2017 was seen.
• Law enforcement statewide will increase enforcement of the state’s seat belt laws between May 20 and June 2.
•Texas law requires everyone in a vehicle to be properly buckled up or face fines and fees up to $200.
• Children younger than eight must be restrained in a child safety seat or booster seat.
What the numbers say about wearing a seatbelt
• Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying by 45 percent for people in the front seat of passenger cars.
• For those in pickups, the risk is reduced by 60 percent since pickups are more likely to roll over than passenger vehicles.
•Failure to wear a seat belt cost nearly 1,000 Texans their lives last year.