Led by Attorney Wes Pittman, the team at our Panama City injury law firm is proud of our work representing injured people. We are committed to representation, but we will always believe in "Safety First." It is a commitment visible in this blog and in our work throughout the community. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The axiom holds true two centuries later, and one example we are reminded of on nearly a daily basis is the importance of always wearing seatbelts. A seatbelt may not prevent an accident, especially one stemming from someone else's negligent or reckless behavior. However, a seatbelt can make the difference between a fender-bender and an injury crash, and even between life and death.
Bay County recently launched a "Click It or Ticket" campaign, an effort they are publicizing widely, including in a WMBB report. Police are pulling over violators, reminding them that buckling up saves lives and is required by law. An adult seatbelt violation does not count against the driver's license, but it does carry a $110 fine. If a child is unbuckled, the driver receives a $160 fine and 3 penalty points against their license. Penalties are triggered the moment the car begins moving, meaning both safety and legal concerns make it important to buckle up early.
Officers report seatbelt violations occur most often on slower roadways, especially Front Beach Road. While the campaign ends Sunday, tickets will continue to be issued after that date. Police say the penalties may seem severe, but they remind people that the law exists to promote safety.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") updated their policy brief on seatbelt use. Statistics show that 53% of the 33,000 people killed in automobile accidents in the U.S. during 2009 were unrestrained at the time of the collision. Seatbelts reduce the risk of death for drivers and front-seat passengers by 45% and the risk of serious injury by 50%. One key reason is that they prevent ejection; more than 75% of people who are ejected died, and being unbelted made people 30 times more likely to be ejected during a crash.
The CDC calls seatbelts the most effective tool for preventing death and serious injury in crashes. Seatbelt use has risen in recent decades and the CDC reports that almost 13,000 lives were saved by seatbelts in 2009. Still, 1 in 7 people still fail to buckle up.
In order to improve these numbers, the CDC recommends the use of primary enforcement laws (note: as per the DMV, Florida is a primary enforcement state). This means police can pull drivers over and ticket them solely for a seatbelt violation. In contrast, in secondary enforcement states they can only issue seatbelt tickets if drivers are pulled over for another reason. Primary enforcement states see 9% higher seatbelt usage rates than secondary enforcement states. Additional CDC suggestions include greater enforcement of seatbelt laws, increased fines for seatbelt violations.
We support campaigns like "Click It or Ticket." The fact that the police are publicizing the campaign emphasizes a key point - it is about safety, not an attempt to catch people by surprise. Every officer we know would rather see people "click it" than write that ticket.
Another important point to remember is that a crash victim can recover civil damages from an at-fault driver, regardless of whether the victim was wearing a safety belt at the time of the collision. Our Northwest Florida injury law firm will help victims either way. Still, we have met far too many injured people who wish they had worn their safety belt, including victims who buckled up 99% of the time but failed to do so on the wrong day. We also see grieving families who wish they could go back and remind their loved one to buckle up on the fateful day.
Buckle up today. Don't spend tomorrow wishing you had.