Many who die in crashes don't wear seat belts, studies show
by Madasyn Czebiniak
mczebiniak@annistonstar.com
Jan 26, 2014 | 3930 views |  0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A driver in Oxford last week buckles her seat belt. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
A driver in Oxford last week buckles her seat belt. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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Bob McLeod remembers the Father’s Day of 1991. That night, he received a call from a woman who told him his son had been in a car accident. His son’s head and face had gone through his windshield because he hadn’t been wearing his seat belt.

“When we got to him, he was on the side of the road, and his face looked like somebody had taken an axe to it,” the 67-year-old said.

McLeod’s son is still alive today, but only after extensive surgery, the Pleasant Valley resident said.

“I’ve never thought about it until now, but that definitely has been one of the subconscious motives to buckling up because I saw what happened to him,” McLeod said. “It’s a miracle he survived.”

John Ulczycki, the vice president of strategic initiatives of the National Safety Council said seat belt use in Alabama has increased since a primary seat belt law was passed in 1999. However, more than 55 percent of the motor vehicle related fatalities in Alabama each year are due to 10 percent of people not wearing their seat belts, he said.

In 2011, 368 people who died as a result of motor vehicle crashes in Alabama were not wearing seat belts; a 4.29 percent increase from 2010, according to the Center for Advanced Public Safety in Tuscaloosa. Calhoun County had 15 motor vehicle fatalities that year; eight of those who died were not wearing seat belts, the center reported.

“Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective action that motorists can take to protect themselves and their loved ones from injury or death in a motor vehicle,” Sgt. Steve Jarrett with the Alabama State Troopers wrote in an emailed statement.

State law requires that all people younger than 15 wear seat belts in vehicles at all times, no matter where they sit. People 15 and older are required to wear seat belts only while driving or sitting in a front seat.

Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart was in a car accident in Golden Springs two years ago. He said both his seat belt and his car itself helped keep him safe. Stewart said wearing a seatbelt is a habit he learned from his son and his son’s friends.

For him, Stewart said, wearing a seat belt is a no-brainer.

“Especially after you’ve seen the results of those awful accidents and the head injuries. That makes you believe it real quick,” Stewart said.

Jarrett has heard many excuses as to why people don’t wear seat belts, which include claustrophobia, being uncomfortable and a disdain for government intrusion.

“If people don’t want to do something they can invent all kind of reasons not to do the right thing,” Ulczycki said.

Jarrett said seat belts are not used in approximately 60 percent of the fatal crashes troopers investigate. Since the beginning of the year, 25 people have died in traffic crashes investigated by troopers, Jarrett wrote. Only six people were wearing seat belts, even though they were readily available for 24 of them.

“It’s proven fact that being properly restrained does save lives, whether that be a seat belt or a child safety seat. I think there would be a substantial increase of lives saved if people were properly restrained,” said Rebecca White, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that seat belts have saved nearly 63,000 lives since 2008, and the Alabama Department of Public Health reports that for adult drivers, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45 percent. Car seats also reduce the death rate for infants and toddlers by 54 to 71 percent.

Brandi Medina, a Huntsville resident who was in Oxford Thursday afternoon, said because her car has automatic seat belts, she doesn’t even have to think about wearing them. She has even taught safe practices to her 5-year-old daughter.

“I actually buckle her up in the car seat. She’s used to it. She’s learned how to do it herself,” Medina said with a chuckle.

Courtney White, who was carpooling with Medina, always wears a seat belt. White’s mother even pushed for seat belt laws in Alabama in the 1970s, she added.

“She’s never allowed me to not go anywhere without there being a seat belt involved, whether you’re in the front or back,” White said.

Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.

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