Eagle County sees spike in deaths due to no seat belt
EAGLE COUNTY — During the “100 most dangerous driving days” of the year — the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day — Eagle County saw nearly one death per week on its roads. That’s a dramatic increase from past years, and some of those deaths could have been prevented with the use of seat belts, injury prevention specialists said.
Sarah Drew, a Vail Valley Medical Center nurse and trauma program coordinator, said she remembers several cases this year where car accident victims who weren’t wearing seat belts came to the emergency room. In two cases, some passengers were wearing seat belts at the time of the accident while others in the same car were not. The passengers who were secured were discharged from the ER with minor injuries, while the people who were not wearing seat belts died in the accidents.
“You can’t say for sure what would have happened, but it was pretty apparent in these cases that the seat belts saved the lives of the people wearing them,” said Drew. “Those cases made a big impact on me.”
Looking to reach adults
VVMC’s Trauma Services injury prevention program works to prevent brain and spinal cord injuries to teens and children via ThinkFirst presentations, free carseat checks in the community and most recently, a multi-county teen seat belt challenge. The programs, especially the teen challenge, have been a big success. According to Kim Greene, ThinkFirst chapter director, seat belt use at one local high school has increased from 75 percent to 89 percent since the start of the seat belt challenge in 2011.
While such programs can have significant impacts on teen drivers, it is much more difficult to reach adults in the same way, said Drew.
“We’re looking for ideas on how to impact adult safety,” she said. “Cars are becoming safer and safer, yet our local traffic mortality rates have seen a spike this year. It’s partly because people are choosing to not wear seat belts. We have only had three survivors of car accidents this year who did not wear their seat belts — and these patients may not have had injuries at all if they had been properly restrained.”
According to the International Institute of Highway Safety, nationwide observed seat belt use in 2014 was 87 percent for drivers and 85 percent for front seat passengers. Yet more than half of all traffic fatalities involve vehicle occupants not wearing seat belts.
“It’s such a simple thing to do, and maybe even if one more person thinks about it and decides to wear a seat belt, that’s one person saved,” said Drew.
Colorado sees uptick in traffic deaths
Colorado ranks high in the nation for traffic fatalities, and it isn’t necessarily because of our snowy, icy winters. The state as a whole has seen an increase in traffic fatalities over the past four years, with unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities making up a significant portion of that.
Instead, states and areas with big rural areas where speed limits tend to be high see the most number of fatalities. In the winter, people tend to drive slower, but accidents are far more deadly at high speeds on dry roads. That’s where seat belts can make a big difference, said Drew.
“Basically, a seat belt keeps you in the car,” she said. “ If you have a car accident at highway speeds, and you get ejected, death would be very likely.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.