For many, buckling up in a vehicle is second nature. Open the door, sit down, start the car, and buckle your seat belt. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the United States in 2014, 9,385 people lost their lives as a result of not completing this simple, essential step. According to the Montana Department of Transportation Crash Data, in 2014 in Lewis and Clark County, there were four fatalities and 49 serious and other injuries as a result of unbuckled vehicle occupants. These are our friends and neighbors.
That’s why the Tri-County Buckle Up Montana Program, the Montana Highway Patrol, and local law enforcement agencies will increase patrols and help to educate on the importance of seat belt use during the National Seat Belt Campaign from May 23 to June 5, 2016. This campaign comes just ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, and the 100 deadliest days on our roadways from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
According to research conducted by NHTSA, while 88.5 percent of passenger vehicle occupants buckled up in 2015, almost 50 percent of occupants of fatal crashes nationwide are not restrained. In some states, the rate is as high as 70 percent unrestrained in fatal crashes. This fact gravely highlights the need for increased enforcement and awareness of seat belt use.
Many believe that driving in large vehicles, trucks, or SUVs offers greater protection during a vehicle crash. Sadly, this is not the case. According to NHTSA, 61 percent of pickup truck occupants who died in crashes were not buckled up. That’s compared to 42 percent of passenger car occupants who died while not wearing their seat belts. Additionally, men and young adults are more likely to not wear a seat belt.
As of May 16, 2016, there have been 55 lives lost on Montana’s roadways compared to 39 for this time last year. The fatality count is on a rapid rise and the lack of seat belt use is the No. 1 contributing factor to the deaths of these drivers and their passengers.
Will this awareness period be enough to get you to buckle your seat belt? Think about it — this is the perfect opportunity to ingrain this life-saving habit into your daily driving routine. So next time you head out on the road, remember: Buckle Up. Every trip, every time so that you and your passengers make it to your destinations safely and ready to enjoy your summer activities.
Tracie V.M. Kiesel is the coordinator for Tri-County Buckle Up Montana.