It’s 2016, and you’d think everyone would wise up to the importance of wearing a seat belt. Unfortunately and surprisingly, that’s not the case. As of November, there have been 62 deaths resulting from traffic crashes in Kansas City. What’s hard to grasp is this: Tragic accidents aren’t always just tragic accidents. Statistics show that most fatalities resulting from automobile crashes are preventable.
Fifty of the 62 deaths so far in 2016 were motorists (including drivers and passengers); the other 12 were pedestrians. Alarmingly, only 12 (24 percent) of the motorists killed were wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Twelve percent. Think about that. That means 38 (76 percent) of the motorists killed so far this year were unbelted when the crash occurred. There is no verified data to identify exactly how many of these 38 lives would have been saved had seat belts been utilized. However, it is clear that the number of fatalities would be drastically reduced had the safety measure been used by the motorists.
Many motorists hold the mistaken belief that the now-required and common airbags are sufficient to protect them in the event of a crash. However, airbags in the absence of seat belts simply don’t offer the necessary protection. All airbag systems are designed to work in conjunction with seat belts … not as a replacement.
According to numerous studies, drivers and front-seat passengers who have airbags but do not use seat belts are much more likely to sustain a serious injury than drivers and front-seat passengers with airbags who do use seat belts. If you do not wear a seat belt, the airbag can be a weapon, a source of injury. If you do wear a seat belt, the airbag will most likely prevent significant injury.
Both Missouri and Kansas City have laws requiring all drivers and passengers in motor vehicles to wear a seat belt. The Kansas City Police Department consistently participates in the nationwide “Click It or Ticket” campaign and has been conducting public information campaigns for the last several years to make citizens aware of the law. This includes handing out informational pamphlets to motorists at major intersections around the city and to those who are stopped for traffic violations.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” The police are limited in the power they have to ensure that all motorists remain safe by buckling up. It is incumbent on us as drivers and parents of drivers to partner with the Kansas City Police Department by sharing the responsibility to ensure that we, and those around us, take advantage of these life-saving devices. Seat belts save lives. We just need to use them.
Please be safe this holiday season, and each and every day that follows.
Michael Rader is an attorney focusing his practice on representing families that have lost loved ones or people who have been catastrophically injured as a result of another’s negligence. He is also president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, appointed in 2013 by Gov. Jay Nixon.