MILLCREEK — Michael Simkins doesn't remember the painful crash that nearly took his life, but he does recall putting on his seat belt that morning.
Simkins hardly wore his seat belt, but his wife of just a few weeks had been pleading with him to use it. She had even placed a photo of herself and their 5-year-old son in the car, complete with a handwritten note and some doodled hearts in the corner urging, "Buckle up for us!!!"
Simkins was caught in a residual crash from a large, multicar pileup on I-15 on Sept. 28. While he was at an area hospital, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper came by to return the photo that had been found in the wrecked car, telling Alyson Simkins that if her husband hadn't worn his seat belt, he likely would have gone through the windshield.
"Ever since then I have always worn my seat belt because I knew it was important to my family. I almost died that day," Michael Simkins said, blinking back tears.
Standing by her husband, Alyson Simkins, a longtime advocate for seat belts, said the couple is now working together telling others to remind their loved ones why it is important to buckle up.
"We thought it was a really good idea and good way to remind people to wear their seat belts, to show them their loved ones right in front of their face and tell them, 'wear your seat belt for me.' What other reason would you need?" Alyson Simkins said.
The Pleasant Grove couple shared their story with fifth-graders at James E. Moss Elementary School on Tuesday, asking the students to raise their hands if they wear seat belts in the car. They then asked the children whether they want their parents to wear seat belts, getting a unanimous yes.
Alyson Simkins took a photo of each child with an instant camera. The children each wrote a message on their photo urging family members to buckle up. They were urged to share the photo with someone they love.
The visit with the children previewed a "Click It or Ticket" campaign by the Utah Highway Patrol, which will kick off Saturday and run through Thanksgiving weekend. With a flood of drivers traveling for the holidays, UHP Maj. Mark Zesiger said 300 troopers will be working overtime to remind motorists to buckle up.
"We write tickets, but it's more to educate," Zesiger said. "It's to make contact with that person, hopefully educate them and reinforce the message about that love and their safety, to make sure they're getting home to their family."
A personal story like the Simkins' emphasizes how important a seat belt can be, Zesiger said.
"You can hear it from law enforcement, we can say it all day, you can hear it from legislators as it's mandated through law and whatnot, but it's when you actually have that personal connection … that really drives it home," Zesiger said.
According to the highway patrol, Utah has seen 3,497 crashes during Thanksgiving week over the past five years. Twenty of those crashes were fatal, Zesiger said, including four last year.
"That's why we put so much emphasis on holidays. We know how many people are going to be out there," Zesiger said.