The Garden City Telegram
2/23/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Safe trek

Program drives home need for students to buckle up.

Law enforcement officers want to teach teens an important lesson.

To do so, state troopers are joining area law enforcement agencies in an annual seat belt enforcement campaign around high schools.

More than 120 schools and 50 counties — Finney County included — currently participate in the Seatbelts Are For Everyone (SAFE) initiative, a program administered by students of the high school they attend.

Results have been encouraging in a state that was slow to step up enforcement of seat belt violations.

Kansas' long overdue shift in 2010 to a primary seat belt law, which meant motorists could be pulled over for simply driving without a seat belt, was one positive step toward higher compliance for all on the road.

The SAFE program targets teens by encouraging them to sign a card pledging to wear a seat belt. Other efforts involve traffic safety education and enforcement as a way to help students develop sensible habits that help them stay safe.

The awareness campaign features stepped-up vigilance by law enforcement officers looking for seat belt infractions while patrolling around schools. Citations, not warnings, are issued to those who violate the law.

The message has helped in recent years.

In 2013, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation, the observed seat belt rate for the ages of 15 to 17 was 81 percent — a significant improvement over 61 percent for the same age group in 2008-09.

But there's still much work to do.

Of 43 teens who died in vehicle crashes in 2012, 74 percent were not properly restrained, KDOT statistics show.

Unfortunately, too many motorists of all ages still won't buckle up. Law enforcement officers know there are a number of reasons some balk, such as fear of a poor outcome if trapped in an accident to simply resisting because a seat belt is uncomfortable.

Regardless of the reasoning, anyone who chooses not to wear a seat belt should know their odds of survival in a serious accident would improve if they buckled up.

Law enforcement officers are armed with evidence to prove as much, and stand ready to make sure they drive home the lifesaving message.