SALEM, Ore. - Oregonians are buckling up at their highest rate ever: more than 98 percent of Oregon's motoring public uses safety belts. Unfortunately, that leaves a percentage of people who don't buckle up – and who are twice as likely as belted occupants to die if the vehicle they are in crashes.
In 2012, 61 of Oregon's 198 occupant fatalities were reportedly unrestrained. And that's a number safety advocates would like to see at zero.
Oregon State Police, local police department officers and county sheriffs' personnel are supporting an upcoming campaign that focuses on properly restraining child passengers, reminding pickup truck occupants that buckling up saves lives, and discouraging texting while driving.
The campaign runs Feb. 10 – 28, and some of the patrols will be targeting nighttime travel.
"Research shows that most of Oregon's unbuckled fatalities occur from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on the weekends, and on late weekday afternoons," said Carla Levinski, Occupant Protection Program manager with the Oregon Department of Transportation. "We want to raise awareness about the importance of buckling up every time – morning, noon and night, no matter the vehicle, no matter your age."
ODOT provides federal grants for overtime safety belt enforcement campaigns and along with extra enforcement, efforts include billboards displaying the "Pickups rock; They also roll." graphics, and radio announcements promoting child safety seat and booster seat usage.
The greatest danger to unbelted children and adult occupants is ejection from the vehicle. An unbelted or improperly restrained occupant is five times more likely to be ejected than one who is belted.
"We know that people who are unbelted can slam into other passengers and injure them during a crash or sharp swerve," said Levinski. The odds of surviving ejection are estimated at one in four – compared to a one in two hundred fatality rate for occupants who remain inside the vehicle. Ejection is the principal reason that minors are prohibited from riding in an open bed of a pickup truck.
"Proper safety belt usage is the single most effective way to protect against injuries or death in a motor vehicle crash," Levinski noted.
For child safety seats, follow the manufacturer's instructions or attend a free child safety seat clinic (see below for resources).
For adults, "proper use" means the lap belt is placed low across hips with the shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest over the collarbone. Belts should be free of slack and lying flat with no twists or knots.
If the shoulder belt portion of the belt rides up onto the neck or feels uncomfortable, comfort may be increased by using the built-in adjuster or by moving seat position. The shoulder belt should NOT be placed under the arm or behind the back – this can cause serious internal injuries or ejection in a crash.
The February campaign is the first of three annual events that puts extra patrols out to increase safety on Oregon's roads. The other two coincide with Memorial Day and Labor Day.
OREGON LAW: A child weighing less than 40 pounds must be properly restrained in a child safety seat. A child under one year of age or weighing less than twenty pounds must be restrained in a rear-facing child seat. A child over forty pounds but under age eight or less than 4' 9" tall must be restrained in either a child seat with harness system or in a booster seat that raises the child up so that a lap and shoulder belt system fit correctly.
For help with child seats, refer to the seat manufacturer's instructions, vehicle owner's manual, or your local child seat fitting station. A list of fitting stations can be found at: http://www.nhtsa.gov/apps/cps/index.htm or at http://oregonimpact.org/car-seat-resources/