Robin Hammond

Seat belts save lives. It’s a proven fact, but they must be worn properly. Current law in Missouri requires everyone in the front seat of a passenger vehicle to wear a seat belt.

The proposed ordinance on the April 3 ballot in St. Joseph does not require anyone to wear a seat belt who is not already required to do so by existing state law. Personal choice regarding seat belt use already has been eliminated.

The only choice we have on this matter is whether we choose to obey the law or not, just like whether we choose to follow the speed limit. For most of us, the reason we voluntarily choose to follow the speed limit is because of law enforcement’s ability to enforce the law.

Some may worry that a primary seat belt ordinance will be just an excuse for law enforcement to pull you over. But right now there are hundreds of laws on the books for officers to enforce. If an officer wanted to pull you over today, there already are numerous laws that could be used to stop you. Adding one more law to the books will not alter this in any way.

Primary seat belt laws increase voluntary compliance. We can very conservatively anticipate a 10 percent increase and up to a 22 percent increase in seat belt use just by establishing a primary seat belt ordinance. States that have passed a primary enforcement law have seen dramatic increases in belt usage rates.

In 2015, states with primary enforcement seat belt laws had a use rate of 93 percent, while states with secondary enforcement laws or without seat belt laws had a seat belt use rate of only 82 percent.

Missouri ranks 41st out of 50 states for its seat belt usage. The national average is 92.1 percent, compared to Missouri’s rate of only 81.4 percent. According to the Missouri Seat Belt Use Survey, Buchanan County’s usage rate is an alarming 74.9 percent.

Based on the 2016 seat belt survey, teen use in Missouri is only 70 percent — which is much lower than the state and national rates.

In the last 10 years in St. Joseph, there have been 35 deaths from 26 automobile crashes. Of those 35 deaths, eight of the victims were under age 21. In other words, 23 percent of those fatalities were youth and 86 percent of those fatalities were unbuckled.

So far in 2017, 13 youth under age 24 have died in traffic crashes and were not wearing a safety belt.

This is an important issue now because of the increase in distracted driving. According to the AAA Foundation, distracted driving contributes to approximately 5,000 deaths every year nationally. Distracted driving puts everyone at risk, and it seems like this concern is only getting worse.

The Highway Patrol reports your chance of being in an auto crash in your lifetime is virtually 100 percent. Meanwhile, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation, your odds of being killed in an unbuckled auto accident are 1 in 32. Those odds go up to 1 in 1,329 by wearing your seat belt.

With those numbers, wouldn’t you agree it is imperative to wear your seat belt? Wouldn’t you agree that with the increase in distracted driving wearing a seat belt could save your life?

This ordinance will save lives. As a community we must continue to be proactive in our efforts to protect youth.

Robin Hammond is executive director of St. Joseph Youth Alliance, an agency she has served for 23 years in multiple roles.