Officer offers many more than 110 reasons to wear seat belts

My name is Dave Windels and I’m a police officer for the city of Elk River. I was also recently assigned as the department’s traffic safety coordinator, so I’d like to take some time to address the readers on the importance of seat belt and child safety seat usage.
The primary seat belt law went into effect in Minnesota on June 9, 2009. This means that a law enforcement officer may stop you solely for operating your passenger vehicle without wearing your seat belt, or if other occupants are not wearing theirs. Definitions of a passenger vehicle are passenger automobile, pickup truck, van and a commuter van. There are some exclusions to the law as well, which include buses, limousines, vehicles manufactured prior to Jan. 1, 1965, emergency vehicles and taxis.
Minnesota state law requires that children age 7 and under be restrained in an appropriate, federally approved car seat or booster seat, unless the child is 4 feet, 9 inches or taller. Car seats must be installed and used according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Minnesota law also requires that infants under 1 year of age and weighing less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat. The state of Minnesota suggests that compliance with car seat safety law is a minimum safety standard, and suggests that children remain in a booster seat to 80 pounds and remain in the back seat until age 13.
Currently in Sherburne County, the fine amount after surcharges for not wearing your seat belt, or for not having your child properly secured in their booster or safety seat is $110.
Several people still believe that it is their right whether or not they want to wear their seat belt when they are in their vehicles, but the fact is, it has been proven that the use of seat belts saves lives and significantly reduces the chances of sustaining injuries if you are wearing it and are involved in a crash.
Without your seat belt on, the chance of injury or death rises if you are involved in a crash. In fact, traffic fatalities are the No. 1 cause of death in the United States for people ages 1–35, not to mention that 75 percent of teens killed in crashes annually were not wearing their seat belts. As parents, you must make it mandatory for your children who are licensed to drive to buckle their seat belts before the key meets the ignition and to leave it on until the key comes out!
Not only does the risk of injury or death rise if you are not wearing your seat belt if you are in a crash, but the cost of the crash itself rises, too. The average cost of an injury crash is $125,000 and the cost of a fatality is $1 million. In Minnesota in 2010 there were 182,672 reported crashes. 31,176 were injury-related and 411 were fatalities. I don’t even want to do the math on costs for all those crashes, but the next paragraph should help you understand a little better why it costs as much as it does.
Officers, deputies and troopers must investigate crashes, EMS crews get called out to tend to victims, tow truck operators are summoned to the scene to haul away the mangled vehicles, nurses and emergency room doctors must treat the victims, fire department personnel are called out, helicopters with crews along with accident reconstructionists are sometimes needed, insurance companies must pay out for damages, employers lose money in production and absenteeism if one of their employees are involved in a crash on or off the job, and even family members of victims may have to take time off to care for their loved ones, losing time and money in the process.
Tragically, funeral directors and coroners are sometimes called out to transport people to the medical examiner’s office, or someone is unfortunately injured so badly that they must be placed in assisted living facilities and nursing homes for the rest of their days, receiving everyday care from health care professionals.
Consider how much you alone might pay, through taxes, over the course of someone else’s lifetime after they have been involved in a life-changing crash and do not have health insurance to support themselves financially, or perhaps even if they do and their provider determines they have met their limit. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers cannot request to see a health insurance card when we make traffic stops, so we have to be fair and consistent to everyone we encounter operating or riding in vehicles without seat belts. Though traffic crashes are very costly, costs, injuries, and fatalities can be prevented or reduced by simply buckling up. Our goal is to reduce the numbers in the above listed categories through education and enforcement. Our ultimate goal in Minnesota is ‘Toward Zero Deaths.” If you don’t wear your seat belt, your goal should be to start wearing your seat belt because of education, not enforcement, and to pass your new goal onto others who don’t wear their seat belts, either.
Our current percentage of seat belt use is around 84 percent. Traffic safety personnel would like to see this number climb to 90 percent, and ultimately to 100 percent. Elk River officers, Sherburne County sheriff’s deputies, Big Lake officers, Becker officers, Princeton officers and state troopers work saturations throughout the year and focus on different areas of traffic safety in specific locations within Sherburne County. The October wave of seat belt enforcement is currently under way and officers, deputies and troopers will be out on the roadways working enhanced enforcement shifts. The remaining saturations in Sherburne County are on Oct. 25 and 26 between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. If you are spotted by a law enforcement officer in a vehicle on a public roadway, I assure you that you will learn the definition of “Click it or Ticket.” Please feel free to check out the listed websites for additional information and statistics at www.sherburnecrashdwi.com or www.minnesotatzd.org.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope you already wear your seat belt whenever you are in a vehicle, but if you don’t, I sincerely hope you start. Injuries and deaths stemming from crashes can be prevented. Take the steps to avoid being a negative statistic and remember our goal of ‘Toward Zero Deaths” because zero means zero. It doesn’t mean 100. It doesn’t mean 50. It doesn’t mean one because that one is someone to someone else. — Dave Windels, Elk River Police Department

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