Another lesson on seat belt use?

Published 10:16 pm Monday, March 16, 2009

A deadly Sunday morning accident on U.S. Route 58 could be another tragic demonstration of just how important seat belts are to automobile safety. Though police have not yet determined with certainty whether the occupants of the Isuzu Rodeo that crashed and then rolled over were wearing seat belts, a city spokeswoman said Monday that it is extremely unusual for buckled-in drivers or passengers to be ejected from vehicles.

In Sunday’s accident, both the 46-year-old driver and her 8-year-old daughter were thrown from the vehicle. The driver, a resident of Newport News suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Sadly, her granddaughter died.

Weather seems to have been the major factor in causing the accident, based on police investigations. The driver did not appear to be traveling excessively fast for the conditions, according to a city press release, but she began to hydroplane and then lost control of the vehicle. A contributing factor could have been defective brakes, as police discovered the vehicle to have been operating with an expired inspection sticker that cited brake problems with the Rodeo.

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Still, though, such accidents are often survivable. Getting ejected from one’s vehicle, however, drastically reduces one’s chance of living through a wreck. Seat belts are designed, among other things, to hold occupants inside their vehicles, even in the case of a rollover, cutting the risk of being crushed or of suffering some other fatal injury upon impact with the ground.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2007 more than 160 people who died in Virginia wrecks would have lived if they had been wearing seat belts.

Coincidentally, on Thursday almost exactly that many people were ticketed for not wearing seat belts in a special Virginia State Police enforcement action on Hampton Roads’ interstate highways.

One wonders what it will take for people finally to get the message.