Resolve to buckle up

"Every operator and front seat passenger of a passenger vehicle operated on a public highway in this state shall wear a properly adjusted and fastened safety seat belt system, required to be installed in the passenger vehicle when manufactured pursuant to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Number 208 (49 C.F.R. 571.208) in effect January 1, 1989, at all times when the vehicle is in forward motion. The driver of the passenger vehicle shall secure or cause to be secured a properly adjusted and fastened safety seat belt system on any passenger in the front seat who is at least five years of age but younger than eighteen years of age."

That's the exact wording of South Dakota Codified Law 32-38, written in a style that makes it fit perfectly in a book filled with laws and regulations.

In plain English, the law states that if you're driving or are a passenger in a moving motor vehicle, you shall wear a safety belt.

As we begin a new year, we hope motorists will resolve to follow safe practices and obey state law and always buckle up while driving or when a passenger in a car or truck.

We don't need another day like Dec. 18, when three people lost their lives in three separate traffic accidents on an icy stretch of Interstate 29 near Vermillion. A woman from Akron, IA, and a woman from Emery were killed when their automobiles were involved in accidents. Neither woman was wearing a seat belt; both were thrown from their vehicles.

The third fatality, a Garretson man, was a passenger in a truck that went out of control and rolled on the interstate. Initial reports of the accident didn't state whether he was using a seat belt.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts are the most effective form of protection in a crash. Yet, millions of Americans don't always buckle up. The biggest offenders are:

  • Teenagers
  • Males
  • Truck drivers
  • Pickup truck drivers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has identified some reasons why people do – and don't – wear seat belts. According to its Unconscious Motivators and Situational Safety Belt Use report, most people always wear seat belts. However, when people don't wear seat belts, they are generally in situations where they feel safe and ignore the risks.

The report recommends a positive approach to encouraging everyone to wear a seat belt. Some suggestions include:

  • Wearing a seat belt helps you feel in control.
  • Wearing a seat belt because other people care about you and want you to be safe.
  • Modeling the behavior you expect of your children.
  • Wearing a seat belt to be a good passenger.
  • Asking your friends to wear their seat belts.

We realize this list sounds like a nice collection of feel-good platitudes, but consider this – since South Dakota enacted its seat belt law, more and more people in our fine state have made bucking up a habit.

Prior to 1994, South Dakota had one of the lowest safety belt usage rates in the United States, with only 26 percent of front seat passengers choosing to buckle up.

Since the passage of the safety belt law, seat belt usage has been steadily increasing. A statewide survey conducted in 1998 showed the usage rate at 43 percent statewide. A recent observational survey in 2007 indicated a safety belt use rate of 73 percent.

In 2010, the rate was observed to be 74.5 percent, the highest rate ever achieved in South Dakota surveys. In 2011, seat belt usage ticked down a notch, to 73.4 percent in the statewide survey.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people age 5-34. Adult seat belt use is the single most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes. The percentage of adults who always wear seat belts increased from 80 percent to 85 percent between 2002 and 2008 – that's a national statistic that shows South Dakotans to be lagging behind the national trend when it comes to buckling up. Part of that may be because adults who live in rural areas are 10 percent less likely to wear seat belts than adults who live in urban and suburban areas.

We realize laws are only effective if they are followed. We also realize that some motorists and passengers may consistently choose to not follow the law when in a motor vehicle.

We hope 2013 is the year those people change their minds, and begin to use seat belts.

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