The Woodward News

May 16, 2013

Seatbelts can make a difference

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Just a few seconds.

That's all it takes to buckle up.

And wearing your seatbelt can make all the difference when it comes to surviving a traffic accident, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

"It is estimated that seatbelts save approximately 13,000 lives every year across the nation," OHP Lt. Ben Crockett said, referencing data from the National Highway Transportation Administration.

Crockett, who is OHP's statewide occupant protection coordinator, said that saving lives is the whole purpose of law enforcement's annual "Click It or Ticket" campaign, which begins next week and continues through June 2.

As part of the Click It or Ticket campaign, law enforcement agencies across the nation will be mobilizing their officers to be on the lookout for  restraint violations. In Oklahoma, this includes all OHP troopers.

"For the 2 week period, we ask all our officers to pay particular attention to seatbelt violations and child restraint violations and make sure they enforce those," Crockett said.

In addition to enforcement, the Click It campaign also includes efforts to increase "public awareness of the importance of putting your seatbelt on and certainly the impact of buckling up the kiddos," Crockett said.

"It's incredibly important because truthfully a seatbelt is one of the most critical safety devices a person can use," the OHP Lt. said.  "It sells itself in terms of its impact on safety as it keeps a person contained in the vehicle in the case of a rollover or other accident of that nature."

This is important, because "when people are ejected from a car, 75 percent of those wind up being fatalities," Crockett said.

According to an OHP press release, in 2011 in Oklahoma 696 people died on Oklahoma roadways.  Whether the victims used seatbelts or the appropriate child restraints is only known on 491 of these deaths.

"Of those 491 deaths, 58.2 percent were not restrained," the OHP states, adding "Almost 54 percent of unrestrained fatalities were ejected from the vehicle."

If you do the math, this means that at least 286 persons died during crashes where they were unrestrained and, of those fatalities, 154 were ejected during the crash.

Beyond making sure you are restrained yourself, Crockett said that OHP troopers are especially concerned with making sure that children and infants are properly restrained while in the car.

"No one wants to face how terrible it would be to lose a child in an accident when a seatbelt could have been all it took to save their life," he said.

So in addition to seeing that children are safely buckled now, he urged parents to "set a good example by putting on their seatbelts, and your kids will see that and become seatbelt wearers as they grow up."

However, Crockett said sometimes people have a false sense of security and don't realize that wearing a seatbelt is important at all times.

"We've all been there where we feel like we don't have to put it (seatbelt) on because we think 'oh, I'm just going to run to the store, it's not that far,' or 'I'm just driving around in town and the speeds aren't that great,'" he said.  "But the majority of traffic accidents and collisions occur within 25 miles of your residence.  So that should be a reminder that a seatbelt is important every time. And with a side impact crash at just 14 mph, people start getting injuries.  So speeds don't necessarily have to be high for injuries to occur."

And while the Click It or Ticket campaign puts extra focus on seatbelt use for a 2-week period around the start of the summer travel season and Memorial Day weekend, Crockett said "it is an all time thing.  For 365 days a year, we want to get people buckled up."

The title of the campaign warns that people should buckle up or they could end up facing a citation and fine.

"But it's not that our officers want to make a traffic stop or make someone pay a fine," Crockett said.  "We just want folks to be in compliance with the law and safe as they're traveling down the road."

Because, he said that ultimately these same troopers who are warning travelers to buckle up today will eventually have to "work an accident where there's been an injury or fatality because someone wasn't wearing a seatbelt."

"It's particularly compounding for our officers because they know it's needless death, needless injury," Crockett said.  "It's something that could be prevented simply by reaching over and putting your seatbelt on."