By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools
It's time for Hill County residents to ask each other, "What's holding you back?" Read on to see why, and to learn what the six-second solution is.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, rural Americans face greater risk of being injured or killed while driving or riding on rural roadways than do those who live and commute in urban areas. Of the 70,000 miles of public roadways in Montana, more than 67,000 miles are rural roads - outside of city and town limits.
Only 21 percent of Americans live in rural areas of this country, but rural traffic crashes accounted for 60 percent of the nation's total. Just as alarming, the motor vehicle fatality rate in rural areas is more than double the fatality rate in urban areas. With so many rural roads in Montana, it isn't surprising that rural deaths are about nine to every one urban traffic death.
Some of this is due, of course, to the delay of discovery and emergency response along isolated highways. But much of it is also due to excessive speed, alcohol use, vehicle rollovers and higher occupant-ejection rates due to low safety belt use.
According to NHTSA, 73 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were in a fatal crash in 2003 and who were restrained by a safety belt survived. Of those not restrained, only 26 percent survived. Too many of those not restrained and killed were on our rural roadways.
That is why the Hill County Safe Kids Safe Communities Coalition is joining with NHTSA, state and local highway safety and law enforcement leaders to launch a Click It or Ticket safety belt mobilization focused on our rural roadways during Buckle Up America, May 23 to June 5.
Our goal is to save lives by reminding drivers and passengers on our rural roads to always buckle up - or they could face a ticket. This is vitally important because safety belts have proven to reduce the risk of death in a passenger car crash by 45 percent - and by 60 percent in pickup trucks, SUVs and mini-vans.
It is also our goal to communicate to our family members, friends, and neighbors that we care about them.
Throughout the Buckle Up mobilization, we will join with law enforcement and highway safety partners from across the nation in the safety belt enforcement effort, along with television and radio advertisements in targeted markets where rural traffic fatalities have been most prevalent.
One of the most important groups we need to reach is the 15- to 20-years-olds, because they are among those most at risk for severe injury or death due to low safety belt usage, particularly young males. Adults can have a great influence by setting the good example.
In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, and more than twice as many vehicle occupants in this age group die in rural-area crashes than in urban crashes.
Another important group is pickup truck drivers and their passengers, who again are most at risk due to their low safety belt usage. During recent safety belt observation surveys in Havre, it became clear that among pickup truck occupants, only about one in three wear their safety belts, and of those, men were less likely to be secured than women.
Pickups are twice as likely to roll in a crash, as are SUVs, making ejection a very high risk. Since ejection so often is fatal or leads to incapacitating injury, the low use of safety belt use in our community is frightening. Compared to state and national averages, local rates are very low.
Drivers and passengers in pickup trucks consistently have lower safety belt usage rates than the occupants of automobiles, vans and sport utility vehicles. According to NHTSA's 2004 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, the observed safety belt use rate was only 70 percent in pickup trucks compared with 81 percent in passenger cars and 83 percent in SUVs and vans. In 2003, 70 percent of the pickup truck drivers killed in traffic crashes were not buckled up.
So now it is clear why we need to be asking each other the question, "What's holding you back?" We care about each other and we want to be safe ourselves, too. The six-second solution is: Buckle up, every person, every trip.
Please join us in spreading the word. Buckle Up, Montana. Click It or Ticket. No exceptions. No excuses. Because we intend to save more lives along our rural roadways.
For more information on how to avoid rollover crashes in rural areas, please visit www.safercar.gov. Click on Rollover and then the link to Minimize Risk and Injury. Or call the SKSC at the HELP Committee, 265-6206.