High Five program seeing success in getting more people buckled up
Why do some people drive without buckling up? Typical excuses usually revolve around personal preference or comfort.
We hear things like:
- I should have the right to decide if I buckle up or not.
- Wearing a seat belt is uncomfortable.
- It might wrinkle my clothes.
- I know of someone who died because they were wearing a seat belt in a crash.
Common misconceptions also play a part. Some folks say:
- It’s better to be thrown clear after a crash.
- Not buckling up won’t hurt anyone but me.
- I’m afraid I’ll be trapped if the car starts on fire.
It’s basic physics. A body in motion stays in motion until acted upon by another body. An unbuckled body keeps moving forward at the speed the vehicle was going prior to the crash - until it collides with something else. Being thrown from a crash generally involves a violent collision with a windshield and another violent collision with the ground. Even if a person isn’t thrown for the vehicle, the crash turns the unbuckled body into a projectile, colliding with other passengers or items within the vehicle. The laws of physics dictate that these collisions will leave a person who is thrown about the vehicle as well as those they may hit along the way severely injured even at speeds as low as 25mph.
The laws of physics aside, Iowa law requires those in the front seat of a vehicle to buckle up. This is a primary law in Iowa, which means law enforcement can pull you over if there is an unbuckled person in the front seat. This law is intended to protect Iowans from serious injury and even death. Statistics show 75 percent of individuals die when they are ejected from a vehicle in a crash. Those percentages don’t bode well for those who choose to not wear a belt.
In 2014, the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau and Iowa Department of Transportation safety engineers gathered data to determine the five rural counties with the lowest seat belt compliance. The data showed that folks in Webster, Palo Alto, Marion, Fremont, and Allamakee counties had low seat belt usage rates and/or high crash rates when compared to other rural counties. Those five counties received additional funding to help beef up seat belt use in a program called High 5.
“Iowa’s law enforcement agencies would much rather work with people to get information out there that will help keep them safe than give them tickets,” said Randy Hunefeld from the Iowa GTSB. “We think our High 5 program is doing just that.”
To get the program off the ground, GTSB and DOT staff formed an advisory committee and reached out to the state patrol’s state education officers and county sheriffs’ offices in the selected areas to formulate a plan to combat common misconceptions and increase seat belt use.
The officers increased patrols and embarked on extensive public awareness campaigns in their communities. They wrote letters to the editors of all the newspapers in the counties, provided handouts at traffic stops and made presentations at high schools debunking myths about seat belt use and provided solid evidence that seat belts save lives.
Since the program started in April 2014, three seat belt surveys have been conducted. The data shows that the program is having an impact. In the latest survey in April 2015, the overall seat belt usage rate increased 46 percent amongst the five counties, with Allamakee having the biggest increase of 26 percent.
For the April 1, 2014 to April 1, 2015 time period, there were 1,427 seat belt violations handed out in the five counties. As a result of the increase in seat belt use, one county sheriff noted that injuries in the crashes that do occur have been less severe.
Hunefeld said, “The law enforcement contacts in the High 5 counties say that it is harder to find a seat belt violation. That clearly indicates that the program is working and that the motoring public are adhering to the message that seat belts save lives.”
Even though the program has had an impact on seat belt usage the counties still saw 12 fatalities from motor vehicle crashes in that same year. Jan Laaser-Webb, Traffic Safety Engineer for the Iowa DOT said, “That shows that there is still work to do, to not only encourage seat belt usage but change driver behavior overall. If every driver would slow down, remove distractions, drive sober, and assure that they are not driving while drowsy in addition to wearing their seatbelt we could significantly reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on Iowa’s roadways.”
The High 5 program is also geared to improving safety on rural roads by working with county engineers and other local partner agencies on roadway safety assessments in each county.
Because of the success of the first round of the High 5 program, the advisory committee has selected a new set of High 5 counties consisting of Boone, Jackson, Lee, Monona, and Poweshiek. Hunefeld said, “Informational meetings are being planned for these new counties and the new High 5 program will begin Oct. 1, 2015. We’re also excited that other states have contacted us and are interested in using our concept as a model for programs in their own areas.”