Seat belt use lagging

May 01, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

A study by the commander of the Maryland State Police barracks at Hagerstown indicates the odds of surviving a traffic accident improve with seat belt use, and traffic accidents in the region last month seem to bear that out.

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Seven of the 11 people who died in road accidents in the Tri-State area during April were not wearing seat belts, according to police records.

One of those who died was a pedestrian and seat belt use wasn't a factor.

Hagerstown barracks commander Lt. Bruce Smith said a study he conducted on accidents over six years indicated the risk of fatal or serious injury could be reduced by up to 55 percent with seat belt use.

"In 104 fatal accidents since 1994 in Washington County, 69 motorists could have been saved if they had been wearing their seat belts," Smith said.


Police say getting motorists to buckle up is still a challenge in the Tri-State area and beyond.

Through this month, Maryland State Police, working with Safe Kids of Washington County, will target seat belt and child safety seat use as part of the nationwide Chief's Challenge program, Smith said.

"If my troopers stop you and you're not wearing your seat belt, it's going to cost you," Smith said. "But I'd rather you'd be wearing your seat belt."

The fine is $25 for a driver not wearing a seat belt.

Elsewhere in the region, there have been six fatalities on Franklin County, Pa., roads this year, all in April, according to Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. B. Stanalonis. None of those who died in the accidents was wearing a seat belt.

That compares with four fatalities during the same four-month period last year, Stanalonis said.

"It's been horrible," said Lt. Thomas Barkdoll, commander of the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Chambersburg.

In West Virginia, two people died near Charles Town on April 8 - one belted and one not belted, according to West Virginia State Police there.

Jefferson County, W.Va., has had three traffic fatalities in the first four months of this year, up from none in the same period last year, according to a West Virginia State Police spokesman in Charleston, W.Va.

Berkeley County, W.Va., has had five fatalities so far this year compared with eight through April of 1999.

Barkdoll said his Pennsylvania troopers do everything they can to get the message out that seat belts save lives.

The most recent fatal accident in Franklin County was April 25 when three people in one car died. None was wearing a seat belt.

Another fatality in Franklin County on April 21 also involved the lack of a seat belt, police said.

A Greencastle, Pa., grandmother was not wearing a seat belt in an April 5 accident that claimed her life, police said.

On April 12, a man died from injuries he received in an April 5 wreck in St. Thomas Township, Pa. A seat belt was not in use.

Smith acknowledged that seat belts can't prevent all highway deaths. An April 26 crash in Williamsport, for instance, claimed the life of a person who was wearing a seat belt, police said.

"Usually the excuse we get for not using seat belts is the fear of drowning or burning and not being able to get free," Smith said. He said those things happen so infrequently as to be statistically insignificant.

Smith said the message about seat belts is simple, and he has a graphic illustration to send that message home.

"When you have an accident, first your car hits something and then you hit something in your car," Smith said.

Next, your soft tissue - your brain, your heart, your other organs - hits the hard tissue of your body, often with deadly results, Smith said.

"Unless you're wearing your seat belt, that is," Smith said.

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