ST. GEORGE — Use of seat belts is the single most important factor in preventing or reducing the severity of injuries to vehicle occupants involved in a traffic crash, and with 89% of Americans buckled up, there is still work to be done, safety experts say.
Considering that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among those ages 1-54 in the U.S, the CDC says, and buckling up reduces that risk by half, it is no wonder there are so many campaigns to increase seat belt use nationwide, including National Seat Belt Day, which takes place on Nov. 14 each year.
Of the more than 37,000 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, nearly half were not wearing seat belts. It’s estimated that seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives during that same time period, but 2,500 more lives could have been saved had the occupants been properly restrained, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
For Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. John Bottoms, there shouldn’t be any further discussion on the topic of seat belt use or whether any occupant in the vehicle should wear one or not.
“This is 2019, almost 2020, and we shouldn’t be having this conversation about motorists not using their seat belts,” he said. “Seat belts have proven themselves to save lives.”
Bottoms added that he has heard a variety of “reasons and excuses” for motorists not wearing them.
“None were acceptable,” he said.
In Utah, a national traffic safety study was conducted in 2018 using data from 17 counties that revealed that the overall seat belt use rate statewide was consistent with the national average.
Further, the seat belt use rate across the Beehive State has steadily increased over the last 10 years.
Even so, officers see occupants unrestrained on a regular basis. Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams said one area of special concern involves officers finding children who are not properly restrained while being dropped off at school.
“We have officers out there that still see vehicles full of kids,” Williams said. “And either two children are buckled in one seat belt, or some kids are buckled while others are not. It’s very concerning.”
Williams also said there is a misconception that motorists think they don’t need to wear their seat belt because “they are just going to the store, or are only driving a short distance.”
“That decision could be a fatal one though, because you never know where a crash will happen,” he said.
St. George Police Officer Tiffany Atkin went further by saying that motorists who are not properly restrained are “30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle” during a crash, and the statistics clearly demonstrate why seat belt use is so important.
Atkin also said it is also important to make sure pets are properly restrained in the vehicle, otherwise they can become injured or injure other passengers during a crash.
Seat belt use and state-driven campaigns
Research suggests that seat belt use rates among the states was influenced by several factors, but the most important difference between the high and low seat belt use statewide is enforcement – more than demographics or funds spent on media, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study said.
The key factors in states with high seat belt use combined high-visibility seat belt law enforcement, excellent relations within the police agency’s chain of command, effective publicity and placing a high priority on increasing seat belt use statewide. The study also found that effective planning and implementation of seat belt use programs based on solid data and research also increased seat belt use.
To that aim, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street said the agency runs seat belt programs and campaigns throughout the year, and a number of them are geared toward high school-age youth.
“We like to go out to the high schools and promote seat belt use so these kids can see the life-saving benefits early,” Street said. “The programs are aimed at getting them going on the safety practice early so it becomes a life-long habit.”
Street has also found that approaching motorists with a certain attitude can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to modifying behavior. A hard, aggressive approached doesn’t always work, he said.
“Sometimes I tell the driver it will make my day if they wear their seat belt,” Street said. “Using that angle makes it less likely they will unbuckle their seat belt when they get a few miles down the road.”
Street also said this approach lets the public know that seat belt enforcement is fueled by the fact that troopers care about their safety.
Besides National Seat Belt Day, UHP will be launching the “Buckle Face” campaign at the end of the month, where seat belt buckles take on the persona of 1980s action heroes that encourage seat belt use.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.