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State police buckle down on seat belt use

August 01, 2000

State police buckle down on seat belt use



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer


Maryland State Police are increasing enforcement of seat belt laws in Washington County in an effort to stem a recent tide of fatal accidents in which drivers and passengers were not wearing seat belts.

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Since June, six traffic accidents have claimed eight lives in Washington County.

Four of the accidents involved automobiles.

One motorcycle accident claimed the lives of two people, and one person on a moped died. Seat belts weren't a factor in those crashes.

State police said four of the five who died in automobiles were not wearing seat belts and Lt. Bruce E. Smith, commander of the Hagerstown barracks, said using seat belts could have prevented those four deaths.

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"You can't lose if you put on your seat belt," Smith said this week.

In two of the fatal accidents, people were thrown from the cars.

In a June 9 accident on Garrets Mill Road, Norma A. Knight of Frederick, Md., and her passenger, Elizabeth Muster, also of Frederick, were thrown from the car. Both died.

On June 25, Shirley Ann Schroeder of Hagerstown lost control of her car on Leitersburg Pike and was ejected and killed.

On June 30, Jason Foster Wilson of Bridgeport, Conn., lost control of his car on Interstate 70. Wilson died in the crash and his passenger, Jeffrey Jeremy Foulks of Frederick, Md., was seriously injured. Preliminary state police reports said neither was wearing a seat belt and suggested that if seat belts had been used they "would have prevented the seriousness of the resulting injuries and the fatality. "

So far this year, 16 people have died in traffic accidents in Washington County - 12 in automobiles, three on motorcycles and a pedestrian. Last year at this time there had been 10 fatalities. In all of 1999, 15 people died in traffic accidents.

The six-year average is 20 fatalities with a high of 29 in 1998 and a low of 13 in 1995, according to state police statistics.

Smith estimated that in at least seven of the traffic fatalities this year in Washington County, injuries might have had less severe had seat belts been used.

Smith said he hears the same excuses for not wearing seat belts: I forgot, they're too restrictive, it was a short trip, and they'll cause additional injury in an accident.

"The excuses people give never stand up to the statistics," he said.

According to the National Safety Council, a properly worn seat belt reduces the chance of fatal or serious injuries by 45 percent to 55 percent.

A properly worn seat belt has a shoulder strap that crosses the collarbone and a lap belt that fits low and tight, according to the Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety campaign of the National Safety Council.

Maryland is one of 17 states that has primary seat belt enforcement laws, which mean police can stop a car if the driver or front-seat passenger is not wearing a seat belt even when there is no other infraction. The fine is $25.

Lt. Thomas Barkdoll, commander of the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Chambersburg, said his officers have also stepped up "regulatory check points to educate people about seat belt use."

Barkdoll said Pennsylvania troopers give warnings at these stops.

Pennsylvania has a secondary seat-belt law, meaning police must make a traffic stop for another infraction before they can cite a driver for not wearing a seat belt, Barkdoll said.

West Virginia State Police said they have not stepped up seat belt enforcement.

There have been nine fatalities in Berkeley County so far this year and six in Jefferson County. State police did not know how many of those who died were wearing seat belts.

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