Position: NHTSA Occupation Protection Planner/Coordinator
Division: Virgin Islands Office of Highway Safety
Denise Gomes, CPM®, serves as the Occupant Protection (OP) Planner/Coordinator for the Virgin Islands Office of Highway Safety. To this role, she brings a wealth of experience in education, community engagement, and federal grants management.
The OP Planner/Coordinator is charged with working with law enforcement to educate the community on Virgin Islands’ occupant protection laws and on the critical importance of properly and consistently using seat belts and car safety seats for children ages eight and under. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these safety devices are proven to reduce injuries and fatalities associated with crashes. Although Virgin Islands roads lack the complexity of roads found on the mainland, crashes are not uncommon in the territory. Motorists and their passengers must protect themselves to reduce harm from the unplanned; life rarely provides second chances.
To get the word out she conducts educational outreach activities for children, their parents, and the public to encourage their embrace of the simple, three-second life-saving strategy of wearing a seatbelt. Interactive sessions focus on applicable VI laws, proper methods of using the restraint devices, and legal and physical consequences for non-compliance. Of particular importance is the correct and consistent use of child safety seats to protect the lives of our youngest passengers.
In addition to public education outreach efforts, the Coordinator collaborates with local law enforcement agencies to remind the community of life-saving occupant protection laws through enforcement activities. Issuing citations through Click It or Ticket coordinated traffic stops improves visibility and reminds the public to increase compliance. She also partners with community organizations and agencies to share efforts which broaden the reach and increase overall program impact and effectiveness.
Ms. Gomes reminds all motorists and their passengers to preserve that which is irreplaceable – life! Buckle Up, VI! Every trip. Everyone. Every time.
Occupant Protection Program
Seat belts save lives. The Occupant Protection Program plans and develops traffic injury control safety programs in the areas of seat belts, child car seats, and automatic occupant protection systems (e.g., air bags). Historically, seat belt usage rates throughout the territory have been low compared to many States and territories. According to data generated from the 2020 Observed Seatbelt use for Passenger Vehicle Front Outboard Occupants (Seatbelt Survey), the Territory currently reports a 68.2% seat belt usage rate. The low seat belt usage rate demonstrates a lack of a safety culture within the Territory. With a target goal of 90% compliance by 2023, FY 2021 activities, in collaboration with the VIPD and other community partners, aim to heighten community awareness on the critical importance of wearing seat belts and to increase overall compliance with the VI seat belt law.