According to the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, more than 33,000 people were killed in car crashes in 2009. Of those fatalities, more than half were not wearing their seatbelt. Last year, Alexa Johnson, a 19-year-old Colorado resident, was one such victim.
Johnson died when she lost control of her pickup truck in rural Weld County, Colorado and was ejected through the driver’s side window. She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
Colorado highway officials note that many drivers on rural roads fail to wear safety restraints. In fact, 59 percent of the unbuckled fatalities in Colorado last year occurred on rural roadways.¬†Alexa’s father, Tad Johnson, told Monte Whaley of the Denver Post, “The first thing I felt was anger and then I wanted to blame someone. And then I had an ‘aha’ moment and I said, ‘Alexa, what are we going to do about this?'”
Tad and his wife Jona launched a social media campaign to raise awareness about the problem of young adults in rural areas driving without seatbelts. He looked at the photos on Alexa’s Facebook page and said, “We saw that in all those photos, hardly ever was Alexa and her friends using seat belts. It’s something that we just had to deal with.”
The Johnsons took to Facebook with their message about buckling up for safety, and then began to sew inch-wide Velcro ribbons that wrap around seat belts to remind drivers to use them. The ribbons are called Alexa’s Hugs, and since last year, the Johnsons have produced thousands of them, which now come in a variety of designs.
Alexa’s Hugs have already saved at least one life. Alexa’s friend, Kole Kilcrease told Whaley he was driving near the same stretch of highway where Alexa died when he hit ice and lost control, rolling his pickup two-and-a-half times. Both Kilcrease and his passenger survived because they were buckled in. Kilcrease said, “I never really buckled up because it just seemed like an inconvenience. You have a busy day, and you have other things on your mind. I don’t think that anymore.”
MORE: A 16-Year-Old Died in A Car Accident. What Happened Next Changed Hundreds of Teenagers’ Lives.