Police, safety officials reiterating importance of seat belts | AspenTimes.com

Police, safety officials reiterating importance of seat belts

Alex Zorn
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Coal Ridge High School senior Emily Wright buckles up before leaving school on Tuesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent


• An unbuckled passenger increases your risk of being hurt or killed in a wreck by 40 pe rcent.

• Seat belts reduce the risk of death in a crash by 45 percent.

• Colorado could save 63 lives each year by increasing seat belt use to 100 percent.

• Unrestrained rear-seat occupants were nearly 8 times as likely to sustain a serious injury in a crash as restrained rear-seat occupants.

• Being unbuckled makes you 30 times more likely to be ejected.

Information found on CDOT and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety websites

Several fatal and serious-injury car wrecks in the past year, and even more recently, have medical, law enforcement and road officials throughout Garfield County questioning whether some motorists have forgotten the importance of wearing a seat belt.

It’s a problem officials are seeing statewide, as Colorado’s seat belt use rate of 84 percent is well below the national average of just over 90 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“Every trooper can say they’ve seen somebody walk away from a crash that they probably shouldn’t have because they were wearing a seat belt,” Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said. “On the other side, we’ve all seen a crash that was fatal that could have been prevented with a seat belt.”

He said that a person is four times more likely to be killed outside of the car than inside in an accident.

“From my experience, the most serious injuries I’ve seen have been from people getting ejected when not wearing a seat belt,” said Matt Scwiot, ER doctor at Grand River Hospital.

Rifle Police Department Office Manager Robin Steffen commented on how hard it can be to come across an accident where seat belts were not in use when children are involved.

“There’s such a ripple effect, and it’s just so senseless when a seat belt can save your life,” she added.

Seat belts reduce the risk of death in a crash by 45 percent and a collision at 60 mph has the impact of falling from 12 stories for an unbuckled occupant in a car, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Valley View Hospital ER Dr. Ben Peery said a recent wreck involving a father and three children on Colorado Highway 82 near Carbondale has been reverberating throughout the community.

“People feel the same way about this,” he explained. “It seems to me that in a little over a year we’ve had at least four serious wrecks involving occupants not wearing seat belts, and I don’t remember a span of having that many severe accidents in a year.”

“This is a sad thing as a community, but as a medical professional I feel that we are losing ground,” Peery added.

To combat the issue, CDOT, Colorado State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies began conducting a “Click it or Ticket” seat belt enforcement campaign with participating counties throughout the state.

Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein explained that, while drivers could not be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt as a primary offense, officers issued citations if they were pulled over for another reason.

Between March 26 and April 1, law enforcement agencies cited 1,279 drivers throughout Colorado, states the press release.

Among 47 law enforcement agencies that participated, the Rifle Police Department issued 73 citations, second only to the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office (82 citations). According to the 2016 Colorado Demography Office population estimates, Arapahoe County has a population of just over 637,000 people, compared to Rifle’s population of roughly 9,500.

“I think when people are in town and they are going at slower speeds they think they are safer, but a head-on collision at 25 mph is like going 50 into a wall,” Chief Klein said. “Even at low speeds, a seat belt could be the difference.”

According to CDOT, 182 people who weren’t buckled up were killed in traffic accidents in 2016. Nearly half would have survived had they simply worn their seat belts, the agency estimates.

Last year, 211 unbuckled drivers and passengers were killed in Colorado, accounting for nearly half of the 399 passenger vehicle traffic crashes.

In May, CDOT will be hosting another Click It or Ticket campaign, “May Mobilization,” which Klein hopes to participate in, as well.

“Our goal is to motivate people to develop a habit. We’re not writing tickets just to write them,” stated Klein. “Please buckle up, if not for yourself, do it for your family.”

Also this spring, with help from Grand River Health and local law enforcement agencies, a handful of Coal Ridge and Rifle high school students produced a mock DUI video to show their fellow students, and students throughout the country, the dangers of drinking and driving, drug consumption and not wearing a seat belt in the car.

“Any given moment on a shift that can happen, and you always have to be prepared to do those things,” explained Scwiot, who helped make the scenes as realistic as possible. “Just seeing Annick and Dalton was pretty tough.”

In the film, Dalton Pruett gets into a car wreck after leaving a party. He was not wearing a seat belt and later died from a head injury.

“When you are in the moment and you see your kid on the doctor’s table, you just have to take a step back,” explained Annick Pruett, who is also community relations director for Grand River Health. “I don’t think there was a dry eye from our house when we saw the film at the theater.”

Dalton said it’s a powerful message about the dangers of drinking and driving, and what can happen when you don’t wear your seat belt. He called the experience eye opening and unlike anything he’s done in the past.

Grand River Health’s Lisa Somer, who has consulted and talked with kids involved in the mock DUI video for the past several years, said this year they tried to emphasize the importance of seat belts and that marijuana is just as dangerous as alcohol when it comes to getting behind the wheel.