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Tips from a Trooper: Seat belts can prevent deaths

October 11, 2012

By: Trooper Tommy Allen

40,000 people die each year in car accidents. The leading cause of death for people under the age of 35 is failure to wear safety belts. Safety belts can prevent death in about half of these accidents.

Seat belts are required for the operator and front passengers per Title 47 12-417. Every operator and front seat passenger of a passenger car operated in this state shall wear a properly adjusted safety seat belt system, required to be installed in the motor vehicle when manufactured pursuant to 49 C.F.R. 571.208.

For the purposes of this section, “passenger car” shall mean “vehicle” as defined in section 1102. “Passenger car” shall include the passenger compartment of pickups, vans, minivans, and sport utility vehicles. “Passenger car” shall not include trucks, truck-tractors, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, or motorized bicycles. “Passenger car” shall not include a vehicle used primarily for farm use which is registered and licensed pursuant to the provision of section 1134.

This section shall not apply to any person who possesses a written verification from a physician licensed in this state that a person is unable to wear a safety seat belt system for medical reasons. Provided, the issuance of such verification by a physician, in good faith, shall not give rise to, nor shall such physician thereby incur, any liability whatsoever in damages or otherwise, to any person injured by reason of such failure to wear a safety belt system.

This section shall not apply to an operator of a motor vehicle while performing official duties as a route carrier of the U.S. Postal Service. The Department of Public Safety will not record or assess points for violations of this section on any license holder's traffic record maintained by the Department. Fine and court cost of violating the provisions of this section shall not exceed twenty dollars ($20.00).

Municipalities may enact and municipal police officers may enforce ordinances prohibiting and penalizing conduct under provisions of this section, but provisions of those ordinances shall be the same as provided for in this section, and the enforcement provisions under those ordinances shall not be more stringent than those of this section.

Failure to wear a seat belt contributes to more fatalities than any other single traffic safety-related behavior. 63% of people killed in accidents are not wearing seat belts. Wearing a seat belt is still the single most effective thing we can do to save lives and reduce injuries on America's roadways.

Data suggests that education alone is not doing the job with young people, especially males ages 16 to 25, the age group least likely to buckle up. They simply do not believe they will be injured or killed. Yet they are the nation's highest-risk drivers, with more drunk driving , more speeding , and more crashes. Neither education nor fear of injury or death is strong enough to motivate this tough-to-reach group.

Rather, it takes stronger seat belt laws and high visibility enforcement campaigns to get them to buckle up. Seat belts are the most effective safety devices in vehicles today, estimated to save 9,500 lives each year. Yet only 68 percent of the motor vehicle occupants are buckled. In 1996, more than 60 percent of the occupants killed in fatal crashes were unrestrained. If 90 percent of Americans buckle up, we will prevent more than 5,500 deaths and 132,000 injuries annually.

The cost of unbuckled drivers and passengers goes beyond those killed and the loss to their families. We all pay for those who don't buckle up in higher taxes, higher health care and higher insurance cost.

On average, inpatient hospital care costs for an un-belted crash victim are 50 percent higher than those for a belted crash victim. Society bears 85 percent of those costs, not the individuals involved. Every American pays about $580 a year toward the cost of crashes. If everyone buckled up, this figure would drop significantly. By reaching the goal of 90 percent seat belt use, and 25 percent reduction in child fatalities, we will save $8.8 billion annually.

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