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Reader Comment: Let's keep seat belts top of mind

Reader Comment: Let's keep seat belts top of mind

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With snow and ice back in the forecast, many Idahoans are taking a few safety precautions. They’re checking the condition of their tires, batteries, and windshield wipers, and they may even toss a flashlight and a couple of blankets into the trunk, just in case. But one of the most important, and sometimes neglected, pieces of safety equipment in your car can protect you with a single click.

Even if you’re a great driver, everyone involved in a crash is subject to the laws of physics. A body in motion generates incredible force, and an air bag probably won’t be enough to stop your forward momentum. That’s where the seat belt comes in. Worn properly, it spreads out the crash force across the stronger parts of your body, like the shoulder, rib cage and pelvis, and helps prevent you from being ejected from the vehicle. Relatively speaking, you may only suffer a few minor injuries.

In one study, seat belts were estimated to reduce deaths in rollover crashes by 74 percent. That’s a big deal, because two-thirds of Idaho’s crash fatalities involve an overturned vehicle. But seat belts do more than that – they can help preserve our quality of life by allowing the body to slow down gradually, protecting the head and spinal cord from serious injury in the process.

The Idaho Transportation Department reports that in 2018, observed seat belt use was measured at 85 percent. But here’s a sobering statistic – just 37 percent of the people who were killed in crashes on Idaho roads were wearing seat belts. ITD estimates that if all the unbelted motor vehicle occupants had been wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, half of them may have been saved. A seat belt is a small inconvenience when compared to an empty seat at the family table.

Automobile manufacturers are developing advanced driver assistance systems that can anticipate and react to unexpected situations on our roads, but these safety features are still in their infancy. We need to make better use of basic equipment like seat belts that we already have at our disposal.

It’s time to think about improving our seat belt laws in Idaho. The Gem State is just one of 15 states that doesn’t have primary enforcement for seat belt use. That means that unless police officers spot other dangerous behavior, like impaired driving or speeding, they can’t emphasize the importance of wearing a seat belt. By then, it may already be too late to prevent a tragedy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states that have enacted primary seat belt laws saw usage increase by an average of fourteen percent, and occupant fatalities decrease by an average of eight percent. But even an incremental gain in safety would be worth it.

With the cold, dark days of fall and winter ahead, please buckle up, and reach out with love to encourage friends and family members to do so. It’s a simple, easy way to protect yourself and your passengers, and get everyone safely home for the holidays.

Matthew Conde is the Public & Government Affairs Director for AAA Idaho.


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