WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday, September 20, 2019) –– So far this year at least 10 persons, including five children, who were not buckled up at the time, were killed, and one other unbelted vehicle occupant suffered grievous life-threatening injuries, in a series of fatal single-vehicle crashes in Prince George’s County. Yesterday afternoon the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) released results from a recent survey on statewide seat belt use. It also announced a new initiative – “Seat Belts Look Good on You” – to reinforce seat belt safety for teen drivers.
Prince George’s County is a hotspot of fatal crashes claiming the lives and limbs of unrestrained drivers and unbuckled vehicle occupants. “Between 2012 and 2015, an average of 15 unrestrained motorists were killed and 39 unbelted motorists were seriously injured in vehicle crashes in Prince George’s County annually,” according to the County Government. This year, the lack of seat belt use is a worrisome trend in the County. Equally troublesome, “more than three out of 4 people who are ejected during a fatal crash die from their injuries.” As a tragic case in point, at least seven crash victims, five children and two young adults, were killed after they were ejected from the vehicles upon impact in separate incidents on county roads. They were reportedly unbelted at the time. In 2018, “105 people died in crashes on Maryland roadways while not wearing a seat belt,” according to the Maryland MVA. Approximately one-third (“32.5%) of unbelted crashes in Maryland” occurred in the Washington Metropolitan area. Always buckle up. Insist passengers are belted, too.
On March 26, five DuVal High School students were injured in a head-on collision. Two of the students were ejected out of the vehicle. Reportedly, none of the students was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Although seat belt use is on the rise in the county, it is a sobering reminder of the inherent dangers of being unbuckled, which increases the lethal odds of being thrown from a vehicle. In the wake of the sudden outburst of fatal crashes involving unbelted vehicle occupants in 2019, County officials, Maryland law enforcement agencies, and traffic safety advocates, including AAA Mid-Atlantic, are once again warning: “people not wearing a seat belt are 30 times more likely to be ejected during a crash.”
Safety belt use in Maryland was at 90.3 percent in 2018 – “a drop from the 92 percent reported in 2017,” explains the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration. Yet, seat belt usage in the state increased slightly to 90.4% in 2019, which means that “roughly 10 percent of people are still not buckling up,” cautions MDOT. In fact, the number of injuries to those not wearing seat belts has been on the rise in Maryland in recent years, with 376 in 2017 alone. “Nearly 94 percent of Americans disapprove of someone driving without a seatbelt, and a full 74.4% completely disapprove this bad driving behavior,” according to the latest Traffic Safety Culture Index from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
“Unfortunately, far too many Marylanders are still not buckling up on local roads or in the back seat. This is risky behavior. Despite the perceived danger, risk of arrest, and personal and social disapproval, American drivers report engaging in a number of problematic driving behaviors,” explained John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “In fact, 17% of drivers confessed to having driven without wearing a seat belt at least once in the past 30 days prior to the survey.”
“Yet millions do not buckle up on every trip.” In the late 1990s, Prince George’s County reportedly had “the lowest percentage of seat-belt wearers in the state at 76 percent, and the highest percentage of deaths resulting from not using seat belts.” Since then, there has been a remarkable paradigm shift in seat-belt usage and compliance in the County. Seat belt use remains a countywide traffic safety culture imperative and principal. County officials worry whether the recent spate of fatal crashes involving the “beltless” betokens a reversal of traffic safety fortune. It’s the law. In Maryland, all drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts.
The message is clear: seat belts save life. Sadly, some folks still aren’t getting the message. At 5 a.m. February 2, five children, ages 5 to 15, were flung like projectiles from a vehicle and killed after the vehicle they were riding in smashed into trees, reports the Maryland State Police. The tragic snowy morning crash in Bowie garnered national headlines. A sixth passenger in the vehicle succumbed to injuries he sustained in the violent single-vehicle crash. Subsequently, the driver of the vehicle, who was also the mother of two of the crash victims, was charged with vehicular manslaughter.
Several days later, three persons were killed and another was severely injured in a single-vehicle crash on Martin Luther King Jr. Highway at Glen Willow Drive in Seat Pleasant, confirms the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit. The errant vehicle left the roadway, struck an embankment and ultimately overturned. Police officials on the scene said, “Preliminarily, it does not appear any of the occupants was wearing a seatbelt.” This violent crash occurred around 3:55 A.M., Sunday, February 10, 2019, the Prince George’s County Police Department said. On late Friday evening, April 19, four persons were killed after the SUV they were riding in crashed into a utility pole in the 5800 block of Sheriff Road. Two of the occupants were ejected from the vehicle, causing crash investigators with the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit on the scene to surmise they weren’t wearing seatbelts. Yet three-point seat belts reduce the odds of ejection during a crash by 91%.
“Because unbelted passengers are not secured, they can easily become projectiles in a crash, causing serious injuries or death to other passengers,” warns the Maryland Highway Safety Office. Seat belt usage “is one of the most effective ways to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes,” the CDC says. “Maryland recorded 142 unrestrained vehicle occupant fatalities in 2008, compared to 112 such deaths in 2016, and 116 such fatalities in 2017, according to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database. More than half of Maryland drivers killed in crashes at night (between 8 p.m. – 6 a.m.) were not wearing seat belts.
Even so, wearing a seat belt has been “mandatory in the state of Maryland since 1997.” Unlike Virginia, Maryland and the District have primary seat belt laws. It allows sworn police officers in the state to stop and ticket someone for not buckling up. In 2018, Maryland State Police issued 11,243 citations and 8,805 warnings for seat belt violations, according to the Maryland Highway Safety Office. “Unrestrained drivers and passengers represent almost half of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths in the United States,” a study published in the Journal of Safety Research in February 2019 confirms. The researchers found, “Seat belt use was higher in front passenger seats (86.1%) than in rear passenger seats (61.6%).” Nearly a fourth (24%) of 16 to 20 year-old drivers in Maryland were not wearing a seat belt in the period between 2011 and 2014, reported the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA).
Again, vehicle occupants not wearing a seat belt run the risk of being ejected through the windshield during a crash. If this occurs, they are three or four times more likely to die. “If you get thrown from the vehicle, you’re more likely to be killed by the trip through the windshield, or by your collision with the ground 150 feet later, than by the initial collision with another vehicle or any other object,” warned the Montana Seat Belt Work Group. Depending upon the speed, they could be “thrown half the length of a football field.”
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