The holidays are a particularly busy time, filled with running errands from store to store to find gifts for loved ones. This errand running is in addition to the continuous driving to and from work, increasing traffic on the roads. The stress and activity of the holidays, while a somewhat fun part of the tradition itself, also makes car safety particularly relevant. Today I would like to address seat belt safety as it applies to rollover crashes, which are already deadly in the most favorable conditions.
WJHG is following the status of a man who was severely hurt following a crash that occurred late Friday night just east of Northwest Florida Beaches Airport on Highway 388 near West Bay. Joseph Aric Guetter, a 39-year-old from Panama City, had been driving on east on 338 when he drove off the road. After crashing into a utility pole, the Toyota Four Runner overturned and Guetter, who had not been wearing a seat belt, was ejected. Guetter was taken to Bay Medical/Sacred Heart in critical condition.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pamphlet opens with clear and concise language: "Lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of critical injuries and death by about 50%, but people have to use them for them to work." Data comparing the results or belted and unbelted vehicle occupants makes it clear that seat belts save lives and prevent an accident from becoming a true tragedy. At the simplest level, motorists who died in crashes were often unrestrained – 62% of nighttime fatalities involved unrestrained persons, and 43% of daytime deaths involving unrestrained occupants. The NHTSA estimates that seatbelts saved 11,949 lives in 2011 and projects that universal seatbelt use could have prevented an additional 3,384 traffic deaths.
Restraint use can be especially important in a rollover situation, where being belted prevents passengers from becoming airborne and either colliding with other people/objects in the car or being ejected entirely. According to the NHTSA pamphlet, a full third of unsecured occupants involved in studied accidents were ejected from their vehicle with 77% of those ejected individuals dying from their injuries. A full 95% of those who were completely ejected from a vehicle during a rollover were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the incident.
A similar conclusion is made by researchers in an NIH study who used data from the National Automotive Sampling System to find seatbelts reduced the likelihood of a partial ejection, and they all but eliminated the risk of total ejection, a key finding given that ejection greatly increased the chance of death, even when other factors are held constant.
We'd like to think Santa buckles up, and we hope you do too. Under Florida's comparative negligence rule, crash victims can recover civil damages from at-fault drivers regardless of whether they were wearing a safety belt at the time of the incident. We believe in helping these victims recover needed compensation. However, we also believe in prevention first. We see far too many people who've regretted not taking such a basic safety step. Please don't be one of them.