A strong highway safety effort not only saves lives but also can lead to lower health-care costs and reduced crime said speakers at the 2010 Highway Safety Summit, sponsored recently by ITD’s Office of Highway Operations and Safety in Boise.
More than 265 law enforcement officers, medical personnel and highway safety professionals heard a sobering presentation of the physics and physical consequences of high-speed crashes by keynote speaker Pam Holt.
Holt, a nurse and trauma prevention services coordinator for St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Springfield, Mo., told the group that three collisions take place during each motor vehicle crash involving an unbelted occupant.
“First, there is the car hitting something and then the body hits the inside of the car,” she said. “At the same time, the brain is smashing into the skull.”
Injuries resulting from those kinds of collisions often are much worse than death. “Medicine can’t fix frontal brain injuries,” she explained. “And, if you are paralyzed, today will last forever.”
“People think it’s their right to choose, ‘seat belt’ or ‘no seat belt,’” she said. “But when confronted with severe injury, the question for everyone else is always ‘What will we do with him?’
“Seat belts are the answer to reducing health costs in America,” she stated. “Seat belts should be mandated as part of public health.”
On average, people who don’t wear safety restraints and survive an injury crash spend at least one extra day in an intensive care unit where costs run about $25,000 per night.
Medicaid costs related to injuries for people who choose not to wear safety restraints run nearly one-and-a-half times those of people who buckle up and experience a crash.
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel advocates safety restraint usage as agency policy for all of his officers. “They need to model the behavior they are trying to encourage in others,” he said.
Whetsel is a four-term elected sheriff who believes strongly in traffic safety and its enforcement as a public safety tool and crime deterrent.
“We found that criminals drive to their form of work or crime, and if you are out working traffic enforcement, you’re reducing crime,” he told the group.
Oklahoma County comprises 150 square miles, and the sheriff’s department wrote a total of 16 traffic tickets and made no DUI arrests in 1996. When elected sheriff in 1997, Whetsel created a traffic safety unit that dropped the county’s crash rate by 97 percent and crime rate 87 percent. At the same time, the county’s population rate surged by 505 percent.
He noted that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was captured during a routine traffic stop for having no license plate on his vehicle.
Whetsel challenged law enforcement administrators attending the summit to consider getting out and writing a ticket.
“I wrote my last ticket two days ago,” he said. “The woman who received the ticket was impressed that the sheriff wrote the ticket. She promised to vote for me.
“Not bad, since Oklahoma County is a predominately Republican county, and I’m a Democrat,” he added.
Other safety summit speakers included ITD Deputy Director Scott Stokes; Highway Safety Manager Mary Hunter; Sgt. Ted Piche’ of the Lewiston Police Department; Jared Olson, Idaho’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor; and John Moffat, NHTSA Regional Administrator.
More than a dozen breakout sessions offered summit participants a variety of safety topics including a new executive session for sheriffs, chiefs of police and state police.
Session topics included a lethal weapon overview, lane departures and intersections, innovative enforcement techniques, distracted driving, the ALS (Administrative License Suspension) process, Web Cars, road safety audits, crash reconstruction and black box data, DUI courts, safety corridor projects and an A-RIDE overview.
“Beyond the Traffic Stop” awards were given to Sgt. Brenda Smith, Post Falls Police Department; Officer Jeremy Barnes, Lewiston Police Department; and Officer Ryan Hayes, Montpelier Police Department.
“We are thrilled with the record turnout for the 2010 Highway Safety Summit,” said Hunter. “Idaho’s Law Enforcement Liaisons, Cecilia Arritola, and the rest of ITD’s highway safety office worked extremely hard to make this summit successful. It is gratifying to see in one location so many partners that share ITD’s commitment to safety and vision of no deaths on Idaho highways.”