More than half killed in Louisiana car crashes weren't wearing belts

More than half killed in Louisiana car crashes weren't wearing belts

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More than half killed in Louisiana car crashes weren't wearing belts

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wwltv.com

Posted on September 3, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Jean-Paul Arguello / Houma Courier

Seat belts save lives, but many people still haven’t gotten the message, police and others say.

This year to date, 684 people have died in fatal car crashes in Louisiana, according to State Police statistics. Of those, 55 percent of drivers and 56 percent of passengers killed were not buckled up.

“Seat belts are the single most effective safety device for preventing death and serious injury,” State Police Troop C spokesman Evan Harrell said. “Wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by 50 percent.”

But many people still do not consistently wear their seat belts, he said, pointing to numbers.

Eleven people have died this year in Lafourche Parish crashes, according state Transportation Department data. Fourteen people were killed in Terrebonne.

“Being a state trooper and working crashes on the road, I’ve personally seen fatality crashes where, had that person been wearing their seat belt, they could’ve walked away,” Harrell said. “By not wearing your seat belt, you are turning a potentially no-injury or low-injury crash into a fatality crash.”

One Houma resident credits seat belts with saving the lives of herself and her two sons.

“It was raining when the driver of an oncoming pickup truck lost control after applying his brakes and hit my car head on,” said Connie Gaidry of Houma.

In the moment before the crash, Gaidry leaned from her spot behind the wheel — using her body to shield the son sitting in the front passenger seat. That prevented her shoulder harness from locking, she said, and her car lacked airbags that would have protected her from the steering wheel and gear shifter.

She was seriously injured, her car was totaled, but she and her sons survived the crash. The boys were buckled up.

“Although I had severe injuries that resulted in several major surgeries and weeks in the hospital, my sons both had minor injuries and were treated and released from the hospital the same day,” Gaidry said.

The good news is that more people are wearing seat belts than in the past. The compliance rate in Louisiana is at an all-time high of 82 percent, Harrell said.

He credits a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration campaign called “Click It or Ticket” as the reason. Grants from the state Highway Safety Commission pay for enforcement in Terrebonne and Lafourche and include things like extra patrols and seat-belt checkpoints.

Louisiana law requires that all vehicle occupants, including backseat passengers, wear safety belts. Children under 13 must wear a seat belt or be restrained by an appropriate child-safety seat.

The state has a primary-enforcement law for safety belts, meaning that officers can stop and ticket a driver that they spot not complying with the law.

First-time offenders pay $25. The fees increase for subsequent offenses.

Drivers offer a variety of reasons for not wearing seat belts, police said.

“People think that they have other safety features built into the car and they’ll think they don’t need it,” Harrell said. “Everybody thinks that an airbag will stop them, until they go over it or around it.”

Gaidry said she shares her story with as many people as she can and believes that wearing a seat belt is important.

“We, as parents, have the responsibility to protect our children and to teach them how to protect themselves and others,” said Gaidry. “Buckling up is an important, potentially life-saving, message that we should all teach our children.”

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