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Seat Belt Summit expands partnerships that save lives

The “Idaho Click It, Don’t Risk It!” Seat Belt Summit brought together more than 220 safety professionals from around the state this week (Wednesday, March 17). The summit, sponsored by ITD’s Office of Highway Safety (OHS), focused on preventing fatalities in traffic crashes through the proper use of seat belts and booster seats.

Speakers identified strategies for saving lives, including seatbelt laws, visible enforcement campaigns, vehicle technology, roadway designs/maintenance and infrastructure.

“The challenge before us: moving toward zero deaths,” ITD Director David Ekern told the group assembled at Boise’s DoubleTree Riverside Hotel.

Getting to that goal will require successful partnerships, like those already formed between attendees, Ekern told the crowd. The role of partnerships between government entities, law enforcement and private industry also played a prominent part of the day’s presentations.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a major player in those partnerships. Idaho’s FHWA Division Administrator Steve Moreno spoke of his agency’s outreach efforts at businesses and in the lobbies of discount stores, where seat belt messages are driven home through demonstrations that use toys and eggs. One demonstration uses a Barbie car with eggs in the seats, some secured, some not. The car is propelled into an object to simulate a crash; the condition of the unrestrained eggs dramatically illustrates how a person might fare in a real-life crash.

“The focus of the message has got to be personal, because everyone in this room knows it will never happen to them.” Moreno said. “It’s a concept of personal choice. If people know the facts about highway safety, if I give you the right information, you are smart enough to make the right choice.”

Also featured at the summit was a case study of Vermont’s successful seat belt campaign. Ted Minall of the Vermont Governor’s Safety Program described how the Click It or Ticket! campaign has helped seat belt use in that state go from 67 percent to 85 percent.

“The (Click It) message is to convince people to save their lives,” Minall said. “It’s not (an advertising) blitz, not a crackdown. What it is: high visibility enforcement without tolerance for occupant protection violations.

“The message is to save lives,” he repeated. “Here’s what it’s all about: for two years in a row, because of Click It, because of highway enforcement, there were no fatalities over Memorial Day weekend.”

Vermont’s seat belt campaign is often considered a model for other states. Previously ranked 40th in the nation in terms of seat belt use, Vermont now ranks third. In Idaho, seat belt usage reached 72 percent in September 2003, an increase of nine percent from the previous year. The national average is 79 percent.

Automobile collisions are the state’s leading cause of accidental death.

Nationally recognized crash investigator Rob Kaufman of Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle spoke at the all-day summit about restraint technologies.

Many people do not realize how their cars have been designed to reduce injuries in a crash, he said. For example, built-in technologies in seat belt mechanisms hold a person in place during a crash; this can reduce the severity of chest injuries by preventing a driver being thrown into the steering wheel.

“If force (from a crash) was a disease, then a seatbelt is like an immunization against it,” Kaufman said. “A seatbelt helps manage the force (from a crash). This is going to save lives.”

“This summit was all about saving lives,” said Mary Hunter, OHS Adult Occupant Protection Specialist. “Buckling up remains the single-best defense against serious injury or death for you and your passengers, if you’re involved in a crash.”

The OHS received a federal grant of $480,000 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to support a May “Click It, Don’t Risk It!” campaign. The May campaign will include paid advertising and concerted efforts by state and local law enforcement to increase safety restraint use.

On average, five Idahoans are either killed or seriously injured every day in traffic crashes. In 2002, 62 percent of the 216 people who died in motor vehicle crashes in Idaho were not wearing seat belts, according to OHS officials.

NHTSA estimates that half of those killed would have lived had they been wearing safety restraints.