Tornado-swept Texas teen joins TxDOT seatbelt campaign

Riley Leon, the young driver whose truck was swept away by a tornado, is now the public face of the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

Leon was one of many speakers at a press conference in Austin on Monday celebrating the 20th anniversary campaign.

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In his speech, the 16-year-old recounted his harrowing escape from the tornado, which was caught on camera and went viral. He was wearing a seat belt and survived with minor injuries.

“Sometimes I think without the seat belt, would I be here?” Leon told CBS Austin shortly after the press conference.

Leon added: “I’m grateful for the seat belt.”

Leon was returning home from a job interview at Whataburger when his 2.5-ton Chevrolet Silverado was swept away by a tornado in March.

A storm chaser from across the rural road in Elgin, a town about 40 miles east of Austin, filmed the scene. Leon’s truck spun upside down in a circle before the wind straightened it out. Leon could then be seen in the viral video quickly moving away from the storm.

Leon is now dealing with a broken lower back, but said he is recovering.

According to the National Highway Safety Administration, since the launch of the “Click it or Ticket” campaign in 2002, 6,972 lives have been saved through this initiative. The ministry also estimates that the campaign prevented 120,000 serious injuries.

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Despite the success, on average 1 in 10 Texans still don’t buckle up, and the state saw a 14% increase in crashes involving people who weren’t wearing a seat belt from 2020 to 2021, according to TxDOT. There were 3,507 crashes in Texas last year involving people who were unrestrained. Many of these accidents resulted in serious injury or death.

“Unfortunately, every day there are still Texans who needlessly suffer serious injuries or die in traffic accidents because they are not buckled up,” said Michael Chacon, director of the traffic safety division. of TxDOT, during the press conference.

The ministry’s campaign also highlighted the story of Darcey Goodloe of Waco.

Goodloe was a high school student from Waco in 2010 when her truck was rammed by an 18-wheeler. His truck crossed multiple lanes on icy Interstate 35 and into a median, where it landed vertically, face down.

Goodloe has since graduated from Texas Tech University and become a kindergarten teacher. She is also married and expecting her first child, according to a TxDOT press release.

In an advisory, state officials said Goodloe’s decision to wear a seatbelt allowed him to walk away with a few scratches.

According to TxDOT, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death by up to 45% in the front seats of cars and up to 60% in vans.

From May 23 through June 5, Texas offices and deputies will bolster enforcement of state seat belt and child car seat laws.

Texas law requires drivers and all passengers in a vehicle to wear seat belts. Unrestrained drivers and passengers could face fines and court costs of up to $200.

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