The Times West Virginian

October 2, 2013

It’s a fact: Wearing seat belts saves lives

Times West Virginian

— It’s been three months since a primary-offense seat belt law went into effect.

And how are Marion County drivers doing?

It could be better.

Failure to wear a seat belt has been against the law since 1993, but for the past three months, it’s been classified as a primary offense. An officer could pull you over for speeding or some other moving violation and cite you for not wearing a seat belt. But they couldn’t pull you over solely for the offense.

Despite years of “Click it or Ticket” promotions and the change to a primary offense, we noticed that there are people who still drive unbelted. We noticed it, but we wanted a little hard data to show just how many people were driving without wearing their seat belts.

Like a similar study we completed in July concerning talking on cellphones, we sent our reporters to the streets to do a little investigative journalism on the seat belt issue. We identified four busy intersections in the county and asked each reporter to carefully observe traffic in one lane for a one-hour period, count the number of cars that passed and make a notation of each “unbelted” driver.

Scientific? Probably not. But we believe it gives a good sample to start from.

During the morning rush hour, a reporter was stationed at Water and Buffalo streets in Mannington. Of the 115 drivers who passed by, 22 of them, or 19 percent, were not wearing their seat belts.

At lunchtime, a reporter watched the intersection of Locust Avenue and Fourth Street in Fairmont. Out of the 223 drivers who passed our reporter, 35 of them were not belted, about 16 percent.

The East Side fared about the same 16 percent during the evening rush hour. The reporter counted 561 cars that passed by, with 91 drivers not wearing seat belts at the intersection of Morgantown and East Park avenues.

White Hall drivers had the best record with 14 percent of drivers not wearing seat belts during the evening rush hour at the intersection of U.S. 250 and the access road to Walmart. Out of the 350 cars that passed, 50 drivers were not belted.

We were attempting to get a good blend of the county at different times of the day. If the reporter could not immediately identify whether a driver was wearing a belt, the car was not counted. There were not that many of those cases.

We did not want to point out winners or losers when it came to a particular area of the county, and a plus or minus 5 percent difference is a respectable margin for even a nationwide survey.

What we did find out was that, by far, it was male drivers who overwhelmingly were not wearing seat belts during our survey — between 75 and 91 percent depending on the area. Of course, there were no follow-up questions about why drivers chose to or chose not to wear their seat belts, but we found it extremely interesting the lopsided amount of men who went without them versus female drivers.

Being cited for not wearing a seat belt carries a $25 fine, though no additional court costs will be added, nor will any points be put on the driver’s record. We know that’s a nominal charge for the offense.

But aside from the $25 fine, there are numbers much greater that should make drivers stop and think. There are about 400,000 deaths from vehicle accidents per year, and experts say that half of those deaths could be prevented if seat belts were worn. A seat belt prevents the “human collision” during an accident, meaning that it protects a driver from hitting the steering wheel, the dashboard or the windshield, which can cause life-threatening or fatal head injuries.

Every reason that’s thrown out there for not wearing a seat belt has been scientifically proven untrue.

But one fact remains. Wearing your seat belt saves lives.

Buckle up, Marion County.