POPLAR BLUFF -- Unofficial results from a seat belt use survey recently conducted in Dexter and Sikeston have alarmed officials with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Division of Highway Safety.
The survey results indicate seat belt use in the 13-county Troop E, which includes Mississippi, New Madrid, Scott and Stoddard counties, is at an unacceptable level and well below the national average of 70 percent motorists who use their seat belts.
"Seat belts save lives. It's as simple as that," said Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop E Commander Captain P.C. Baird in a statement.
He continued: "Your best chance of survival during a traffic crash is the protection offered by the restraint system in your vehicle. In order for this organization to make a difference in the number of lives lost on Missouri highways, we must enforce these laws with zero tolerance and continue to educate the public on the benefits of seat belts."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Division of Highway Safety monitored the use of seat belts across the state from Nov. 18 through Dec. 1 during a series of "Click It, Don't Risk It" campaigns. Survey totals are still being calculated so the official seat belt usage percentage for the Troop E region won't be available for a few weeks, Plunkett said.
"We set up survey sites at Dexter and Sikeston for the Troop E area. Then we checked motorists to see if they were wearing seat belts," said Sgt. Larry Plunkett of public information and education for Troop E of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
At this same time last year, 1,033 people were killed in automobile accidents in Missouri, compared to this year's total of 1,106 fatalities so far.
Statistics also show that nearly 70 percent of all individuals killed during a traffic crash were not wearing their seat belt at the time of the accident. "I think statistics show that of those 70 percent, half would've survived if they had worn their seat belts," Plunkett noted.
The largest contributing factors to fatality accidents in 2001 were speed, inattention and drinking. "Addressing each of these factors is key to our future success at saving lives. But everyone should remember, you don't have to be doing anything wrong to be involved in a collision. Please wear your seat belt and ensure your children are properly secured in an approved child restraint system," Baird urged.
Patrol officers are going to enforce seat belt and child restraint system laws, Plunkett said. They want more increased visibility of seat belts on the road, he said.
"We're stressing zero tolerance to the officers, although we are letting them use their own discretion," Plunkett added.
With the upcoming Christmas and New Year's holidays, the highway patrol is once again implementing Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort).
"This is the time when the majority of our accidents throughout the year occur -- from Thanksgiving to New Year's," Plunkett said.
Most accidents occur close to home within a few miles from town and are usually single-vehicle accidents, where someone isn't paying attention and runs off the road or overturns the vehicle, Plunkett said.
Baird said the patrol wants this to be a safe holiday for everyone, but his experience indicates traffic crashes will happen. Troop E's best chance of sending everyone home safely is when motorists use their seat belts, he explained.
"We simply want the public to wear their seat belts and help us reduce the number of people killed on the roadways. When that happens, we can focus on other things and save even more lives," Plunkett said.