Archive for Thursday, May 16, 2002

Smokey says better buckle up, stupid

May 16, 2002

I've had frequent disconcerting experiences recently. Time and again, oncoming cars and trucks cross over the center line before their drivers steer back into correct lanes. It's enough to make me start wearing my seat belt.

I'm old enough to remember cars that came from the factory with no seat belts and hard metal dashboards. I guess I got in the habit of doing without in my formative years. I always wear a seatbelt on the dangerous U.S. Highway 59, on K-10, during inclement weather or Kansas City metropolitan area streets. But for local trips, too often I hop in the car without buckling up.

Some years back, I heard the suggestion that insurance companies should be allowed to dismiss or reduce claims from those injured in accidents not wearing seatbelts. As much as I grind my teeth over insurance companies, the proposal made sense to me. I would have to admit I contributed to my injuries if I was busted up because I didn't use my seat belt, the most important safety device in the car.

Judging by my mail this week, the Kansas Highway Patrol has noticed my indifference to common sense and that of too many other drivers. They are promising a crackdown.

The patrol can't write tickets to adults solely for failing to wear seatbelts, but they can add the citation when ticketing an adult driver for another violation.

They are under no such restrictions with minors. Adults can be cited for failing to properly secure children under the age of 4 in child safety seats. All children under the age of 14 are required to wear seat belts.

This Memorial Day, the Kansas Highway Patrol says it will try to get the public's attention. It will staff checkpoints with local law enforcement agencies as part of a national awareness campaign. Emphasis will be given to enforcing child safety laws.

It will, Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Don Brownlee writes, maintain a "zero tolerance stance against unbelted motorists in a sincere effort to prevent injuries and fatalities on our highways."

As justification, the patrol cites the following statistics:

In 1999, 63 percent of youth ages 15 to 20 killed in vehicle crashes (the patrol doesn't use the word accident) were not wearing safety belts.

Seatbelt use as measured by the Kansas Highway Patrol has declined from 63 percent in 1999, to 61 percent in 2000 and 60 percent last year.

Approximately 8,000 Americans will die in traffic crashes this year solely because they failed to wear a seat belt.

I'm convinced. I may be the safest driver on the road, but one of those inattentive motorists headed my way might not get back on his or her side of the road the next time.

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