Saving lives one seatbelt at a time

17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Local law enforcement recently took part in the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration program, better known as Click It or Ticket — a program designed to encourage the use of seatbelts.
From May 21 through June 3, extra patrols were added focusing on high volumes of traffic stops, specifically looking for seatbelt violations.

According to Sgt. Laurie Kelly, of the Presque Isle Police Department, the NHTSA estimates nearly one in five Americans still fail to regularly wear their safety belts when driving or riding in a motor vehicle.
A partnership between the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, MaineDOT and the Maine Turnpike Authority was recently formed to educate Maine drivers and passengers on such safety issues. According to this partnership, 80 percent of traffic fatalities occur within 25 miles of home and under 40 mph; car crashes are the leading cause of death for people under 35; in a crash, your risk of injury is reduced when you are buckled in – if you are thrown from a vehicle, you are 25 times more likely to die; and safety belts reduce the risk of fatal injuries by an average of 45 percent.
An ad campaign was created, with a number of spots airing on television to raise safety awareness.
“We set out to create a powerful campaign,” stated Herb Thomson, director of communications for MaineDOT, “and these spots carry a very important and memorable message that is absolutely intended to save lives – a simple action can prevent a lifetime of regret.”
Kelly responded to a call recently that could have ended in tragedy. A person called the PIPD reporting a pickup was headed into Presque Isle with two young children in the bed of the truck. Kelly was able to locate the truck and said at least one of the children climbed through the window to get back into the cab. The driver was subsequently summonsed for the violation.
Currently, the Bureau of Public Safety reports safety belt use in Maine is around 77 percent. The national average is around 81 percent, according to the partnership.
“While statistics show that Maine’s highways, roads and streets are quite safe compared to other places, the occasion of any crash with serious injuries or fatalities serves to remind us all of the importance of safety every time we get in a car or truck,” states the Maine Alliance for Safe Driving.
A stricter seatbelt law was approved by the Maine Senate in April. Current law is considered secondary enforcement whereby a person can only be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt only if an officer stops the driver for some other offense. Under the law, lack of a seatbelt will be a primary offense.
The House had rejected the idea by a narrow margin originally. An amended version passed, designed to prohibit searches of occupants and vehicles solely because of a seatbelt violation. Under the amended version, only warnings can be given out until April 1, 2008.
Under the bill, failure to use a seatbelt would move from a secondary to a primary offense, giving a police officer the ability to detain and cite drivers or passengers 18 or older based on lack of a seatbelt. Seatbelts and child safety seats have been mandatory and a primary offense if such aaren’t used for persons under 18 in the state.
Students at Presque Isle High School got a chance to experience a low-speed crash and the difference a seatbelt can make during a demonstration in May.
Rick Tarr, a traffic safety specialist with Mid-Coast EMS, in a combined project with the State Bureau of Motor Safety, brought the Seatbelt Convincer to the school, giving students the opportunity to volunteer to try the machine.
“The machine gives people a better appreciation of wearing seatbelts by experiencing low-speed crashes,” said Tarr.
The machine is designed for a volunteer, strapped in a seat, to go down a ramp at 5 mph.
“Most people are surprised by the amount of force produced. Then I tell them to imagine the impact at a higher speed. This provides them with a great reference point to understand,” said Tarr, noting that he’s done these demonstrations all over the state for over 15 years, with thousands of people taking part in the demonstration.
Tarr has had a lot of positive feedback, including a student whose life was saved after having taken part in such a demonstration.
“An Erskine Academy student tried it (the machine), and a couple weeks later was in a crash. She was the only one uninjured and was the only one buckled. She became an advocate for seatbelts after that,” said Tarr.
Kelly said the demonstration was timed just right, taking place around the same time officers were gearing up for the seatbelt program.
“We (the PIPD) received a $2,000 grant, as did other departments throughout the state, to cover for an officer to do nothing but a seatbelt detail. We’ve determined those up to the age of 24 are the most likely to be involved in an accident and are also more likely to not wear a seatbelt,” said Kelly, noting seatbelt use is extremely important to prevent injury or death in the event of an accident.
Kelly hoped the new law would encourage more people to buckle up. If they don’t, officers will be watching and ticketing accordingly.
“I’d rather give hundreds of tickets than to have to do one death notification, advising the family their loved one might have survived had they used a seatbelt,” said Kelly.