May 25, 2009 in City

Authorities on patrol sharpen focus on seat belt use

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Fewer deaths

Traffic fatalities have declined in the Inland Northwest as seat belt use increases.

Washington for years has been one of the top states in observed daytime seat belt use – 96.5 percent last year, up from 92.6 percent in 2002, when the state’s seat belt law went into effect. Traffic fatalities have fallen to 518 last year, from 649 in 2001.

Idaho had a seat belt use rate of 76.9 percent last year, up since 2001. There were 252 fatalities in 2007, down from 293 in 2003.

The traffic death last week of a 22-year-old Washington State University graduate underscores the plea by public safety officials to buckle up.

The death occurred as two-week “Click it or Ticket” enforcement campaigns got under way in Spokane and Kootenai counties.

In a painful example, the woman killed in Garfield County southwest of Pullman last week was not wearing a seat belt. She was ejected from the vehicle along with the driver and another passenger, who were badly injured.

While speed and impaired driving are suspected in the accident, had the three young people been wearing seat belts, they would have remained in the vehicle and in their belts, where survival rates are 70 percent higher.

The accident occurred during the day, but studies show seat belt use is lower at night and among younger people. In Washington, the traffic death rate is four times higher at night because fewer people wear their belts and risky behavior such as intoxicated driving is more likely.

As a result, area law enforcement agencies are targeting drivers at night by assembling teams of officers to spot and catch unbelted drivers through June 7.

During the emphasis patrols, one officer is posted in a place where streetlights illuminate vehicle occupants, such as an intersection. The officer watches for violations and radios ahead to another officer who makes the traffic stop.

Washington is among the 25 states that have primary seat belt laws, meaning officers can pull over vehicles if seat belts are not being used. Seat belt use in such states tends to be higher than those with so-called secondary seat belt laws, where officers have to make the stop for another reason. Idaho has a secondary seat belt law.

In addition to the Spokane-area patrols, Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies are conducting emphasis patrols through Sunday, focusing on moving violations and strictly enforcing the state’s seat belt law to reduce the number of injury accidents, Sheriff Rocky Watson said in a press release.

“In 2007, 76 percent of those killed in single-vehicle rollovers in Idaho were not buckled up,” he said. “More than 80 percent of those killed in DUI crashes were not buckled up and 63 percent of those killed in speed-related crashes were not buckled.”

The statistics showing the importance of wearing seat belts are extensive.

Nationally in 2007, nearly two-thirds of the 16- to 20-year-olds killed in nighttime crashes were unbelted at the time. The fatality rate in that age group is double that of adults.

One study in Washington showed the death rate among Native Americans not wearing seat belts is more than three times higher than the wider population.

Even so, the national campaign to increase seat belt use is paying off.

“People are starting to get the message ‘Buckle up,’ ” said Julie Furlong, a consultant for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

Off-road vehicle hearing

Stevens County commissioners will hold a public hearing Thursday on expanding the list of county roads that may be used by off-road vehicles.

The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Loon Lake School, 4001 Maple St., in Loon Lake.

The county in 2007 adopted an ordinance listing numerous county roads that can be used by off-highway vehicles. State law allows county or local jurisdictions to create opportunities for off-road recreation.

The list of roads to be added includes several in the Loon Lake and Clayton areas in southern Stevens County.

State law defines a non-highway vehicle as “any motorized vehicle including an ORV when used for recreational purposes on non-highway roads, trails, or a variety of other natural terrain.”


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