Is 81 percent good enough?

  • Published
  • By Mark Schaffer
  • 82nd Training Wing Safety
Eighty-one percent is a pretty good score in academics; probably about a grade of "B."
Eighty-one points is what my favorite NCAA basketball team scored last week in a winning cause. But, 81 percent is also the national seat belt use rate based on June 2006 results from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, or NOPUS.

Seatbelt use rates within the Air Force, Air Education and Training Command and specifically at Sheppard remain consistently high and routinely exceed the national average.

You might be asking yourself, "Then why am I reading another article on seatbelt use?" The reason centers on the fact that our Air Force and local community continue to be negatively impacted by the choice not to use a seatbelt or proper child restraint.

As an Air Force safety mishap investigating officer, I've had the misfortune to respond to many traffic crashes, ultimately to find out that the nonuse of seatbelts was a primary factor in the extent of the injuries or death.

Two very recent fatalities within our own command and our own state immediately come to the forefront.

In one instance, an Air Force member did not manage his risks properly and rolled his vehicle several times after departing the roadway. This Airman let the combination of drowsy driving and routine non-use of a seatbelt significantly contribute to his unnecessary death. This young man was only six miles from his home when the mishap occurred.

In another very recent mishap, an Airman was riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle. Although initially buckled up, he unbuckled to search for a roadmap and did not re-buckle his belt. The very inexperienced driver, searching for the cup holder to put his soda away, lost control of the vehicle and rolled the vehicle. Unfortunately his passenger, although only unbuckled for a few minutes, was killed.

The impacts are not limited to just our Air Force members.

Recent local news stories include a young person that was ejected from a school-owned vehicle after the vehicle encountered our recent icy North Texas roads and partially rolled over in a ditch. The young person, not wearing a seatbelt, was partially ejected from the vehicle and pinned underneath. To the sadness of all, the student died at the scene.

The impact of improperly used vehicle restraints become just as sobering when it comes to child passenger safety. In another local area traffic mishap, a 2-month-old child was ejected from a vehicle after the driver lost control in a curve and rolled. Investigators said the infant was in a child restraint system; however, wasn't properly restrained.

A second child in the same vehicle, also improperly restrained in a child safety seat, died a few days later.

In 2005 in Texas alone, 61 children were killed in traffic accidents and 28 of these children were unrestrained.

Unfortunately, traffic mishaps do not discriminate and are totally unpredictable. Please use your seatbelt on every trip, every ride and all the time. If your passengers forget to buckle up, please be a good Wingman and urge them to do so ... even on those short trips to the convenience store.

Parents and caregivers need to take child seats seriously. All children age 12 and under should be properly restrained in the back seat and rear-facing child seats should never placed in front of an active air bag! Children that have outgrown child safety seats should be moved to booster seats until they are at least 8 years old, unless they are 4'9" tall. Boosters are for children that aren't ready for the adult seatbelt yet.

I'd urge everyone to make the use of seatbelts and proper child restraints a "100 percent" compliance check. The proper use of seatbelts and child restraints can make a world of difference. If someone knew exactly when and where they would be involved in a serious vehicle mishap, they'd assuredly make sure they and their passengers were buckled up!

Remember, 81 percent just won't get the job done. Please put the odds in your favor and buckle up!

(Statistical information compiled from the Air Force Safety Center, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Texas Department of Public Safety, Times Record News, and NewsChannel 8-KTUL )