Seat belt use up, deaths still high in N.D., MinnesotaAfter a two-car crash in Grand Forks killed a motorist who wasn’t wearing their seatbelt, we take a look at seatbelt trends in the region.
By: Robb Jeffries, Grand Forks Herald
In 1995, Jeremy Miles, then 8, was riding in the front seat of his cousin’s station wagon on a highway in St. Paul. His 5-year-old brother wanted to ride in the front seat, so he climbed over the seat and pushed Miles into the passenger-side door. Not wearing his seat belt, Miles fell out of the car, tumbling down the road at 55 miles per hour.
“When I hit the ground, I rolled a few times,” he said. “Then I saw my cousin didn’t stop, so I got up and started chasing the car. At the time it didn’t hurt; I was just worried that I’d get left behind in St. Paul.
“After I got back to the car, I started bawling.”
Once he was reunited with his family, Miles needed to have surgery on his hands to remove gravel from under his skin, and had rocks embedded in his forehead.
Even though he didn’t have major injuries, he said he’s learned his lesson.
“Even if I’m just going to the store down the street, I always wear my seatbelt now,” said Miles, now 26 and living in Williston, N.D.
He is one of many North Dakotans and Minnesotans who are embracing seat belt use in greater number. A national seat belt use campaign, Click It or Ticket, executed by Grand Forks Police shows more people are buckling up. In a two-week period in May and June, 32 of 264 traffic citations — or 12 percent — were seat belt violations, down from 14 percent in 2012, and 28 percent in 2008.
Minnesota reports a similarly steep drop in seat belt violations. According to Nathan Bowie, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the state had a 20 percent seat belt compliance rate in 1986. Now, Minnesotans buckle up 94 percent of the time, although northwestern Minnesota’s figure is lower, near 80 percent. According to Bill Vasicek, community safety coordinator in Altru Trauma Services, North Dakota has a seat belt use rate similar to northwest Minnesota.
Bowie warned that comparing statistics from two different states might not be very effective.
“It’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison between states because of differences in enforcement,” he said. Bowie said Minnesota has a primary enforcement law for seat belt use, meaning police and highway patrol officers can pull over a vehicle if they see occupants not wearing their seat belts. In North Dakota, officers must use secondary enforcement, so people can only receive a ticket for not wearing a seat belt if they are pulled over for another violation.
Despite an increased focus on seat belt use, it remains a substantial factor in traffic deaths — even greater than alcohol. In 2012, the North Dakota Department of Transportation reports that of the 170 deaths in traffic collisions, 92 of those people were not properly restrained by a seat belt — more than half of those deaths. Alcohol played a role in just 66 of those deaths.
Minnesota experienced a similar trend, with 145 of their 368 deaths involving improper or no seat belt use, while 136 were alcohol-related.
“The best thing we can do is to encourage drivers to slow down, not drink and drive and buckle up,” Bowie said.
Vasicek said seat belts play a critical role in all stages of a car crash.
“The first part of the crash is when your vehicle comes to a stop after hitting something,” he said. “After that, your body is going the same speed and direction as the car was until something stops it, ideally a seat belt and air bag. Then, your internal organs are going that same speed and direction, and something stops them, too.”
Not only do seat belts help in the second stage, protecting the body from colliding with other objects, Vasicek said seat belts also protect internal organs by distributing the shock of a crash across the body.
“Seat belts are meant to slow down the force of the crash,” he said. “We do see some cuts and bruises, but it’s the internal injuries that we need to check for.”
Vasicek said an overlooked benefit of wearing a seat belt is keeping your body from becoming a projectile and hitting other passengers. He said injuries in severe crashes are often compounded by unsecured objects.
“It could be a bowling bag, groceries, a tool box, another person,” Vasicek said. “Anything that’s unrestrained in a vehicle can become a flying object and make contact with other people. We often see that in a serious crash, especially rollovers, a body can be thrown into other people, or out of the vehicle entirely.”
Safety benefits aside, wearing a seat belt is still the law. Sgt. Bill Macki, Grand Forks Police, said people have different reasons why they don’t buckle up.
“Most people that don’t wear them seem to feel it’s a personal preference to wear their seat belt, or they think they don’t need to wear them because they are going just a few blocks down the street,” he said. “It doesn’t take a high-speed accident to eject someone from a vehicle, and bouncing around in the car can cause severe injury. It’s important for people to remain inside the vehicle during an accident.”
Ultimately, Vasicek said not every crash is survivable. “But if you wear your seat belt, you have a 50 percent better chance of surviving.”
Call Jeffries at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1105; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.