By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools
Families and friends gather together in record numbers at this time of year to celebrate and give thanks. The long Thanksgiving weekend is one of the heaviest travel times of the year. The heavy travel makes for a more dangerous time on roadways in Montana and throughout the United States.
Just driving across town or out to the farm or up the Hi-Line, you say? Fifty-two percent of reported crashes occur within 5 miles of home. It goes up to 77 percent within 15 miles of home. Crashes are more than twice as likely within 1 mile of home as they are at 20 miles from home. Havre residents buckle up about half the time, according to observational surveys.
If you think that low speed crashes - less than 30 mph - are not dangerous, ask an emergency care worker or watch a crash test video. Injuries can be very serious in crashes that occur at low speed.
It is a fact that safety belts save lives. Every hour someone dies in America simply because they didn't buckle up. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics indicate that more than 42,000 people died and nearly 3 million people were injured on America's roadways in 2002. Safety belts significantly reduce fatalities. They are the single most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes. Research has found that safety belts, when used properly, reduce the risk of fatal injury by 45 percent and the risk of serious injury by 50 percent. It is estimated that safety belts save 9,500 lives nationwide each year. In light trucks, safety belts reduce fatalities by 65 percent.
A safety belt prevents you from being thrown from the vehicle. In fatal crashes, about 75 percent of motor vehicle occupants who are ejected are killed. An unbelted person can maim or kill a belted passenger in a crash.
We all pay for those who don't buckle up. The cost of unbuckled drivers and passengers goes beyond those injured or killed and the losses felt by family members. We pay in higher taxes, higher health care costs and higher insurance costs.
About eight out of 10 Montana residents use their seat belts when traveling on major highways. If the belt use rate were increased by 10 percentage points, to 90 percent, we could save 19 lives, 220 serious injuries and $26 million in Montana alone.
Teenagers and young adults are particularly at risk. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixty-four percent of 16- to 20-year-old passenger-vehicle occupants killed or seriously injured in crashes in 2002 were not wearing a safety belt. In Montana, where 37 15- to 19-year-olds died and 368 suffered incapacitating injuries, roughly 23 of those killed and 235 of those injured would not have been had they been wearing safety belts.
At a recent health fair in Havre, two young men talked about how they always wear their safety belts. It was mentioned that people in their age group often are not good about buckling up. They both then revealed they had been raised in states where it is a primary law that everyone wears a safety belt and that it was very easy to get a ticket for not wearing one. Even though they are now in Montana, they continue to buckle up.
Throughout the country, many law enforcement agencies have extra patrols during the Thanksgiving holiday period. One of the big things they are watching for is the use of safety belts as required by law.
Unfortunately, it takes the fear of a ticket before some folks will be consistent about wearing a safety belt. In Montana there is a safety belt law but not wearing a seatbelt is not a primary offense.
One important and fairly new law that Montana travelers need to pay attention to is the child safety seat law.
It says: "If a child under 6 years of age and weighing less than 60 pounds is a passenger in a motor vehicle, that motor vehicle must be equipped with one child safety restraint for each child in the vehicle and each child must be properly restrained."
A child safety restraint is not just a safety belt. It means some type of car seat or booster seat. Children 40 to 60 pounds will need to be in booster seats of a type that is appropriate to the vehicle in which they are riding. Does a 7-year-old weighing less than 60 pounds still need to be in a booster seat, according to the law? Yes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that less than 20 percent of children who should be restrained in booster seats actually ride in one. It provides the following recommendations for the safe travel of children in vehicles.
The Four Steps for Kids are:
1. Rear-facing infant seats in the back seat from birth to at least 1 year of age and 20 pounds.
2. Forward-facing toddler seats in the back seat from age 1 to about age 4 and 20 to 40 pounds.
3. Booster seats in the back seat from about age 4 and 40 pounds to at least age 8, unless the child if 4 foot 9 inches.
4. Safety belts at age 8 or older or taller than 4 foot 9. All children 12 and under should ride in the back seat.
So, as families gather for festivities, hearty meals and giving thanks, let's remember safety belts. Let's think to be grateful for them and their lifesaving potential. Let's remember to use them - every trip, every time. Arrive alive and don't get a ticket.
The HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line is dedicated to promoting a safer community for everyone. For more information about this or other health, safety and prevention topics, call 265-6206.