The reality of how seat belts save lives

Published: Feb. 22, 2017 at 5:20 PM CST
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It's the phone call a parent doesn't ever want to get. "He called me about 15 minutes later and said that the car was upside down," said Jeremy Robertson.

Jeremy Robertson's sons were on their way to the store when his 15 year old flipped the car while driving on a gravel road.

"The famous comment I got from my son is 'Dad, we're out of the vehicle. Everybody is fine,'" said Robertson.

"If you're not belted in, in a rollover crash, in the last 10 years, 80% of the people who have died in rollover fatal crashes were not wearing their seat belts," said Colonel Craig Price with the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

He said on average, South Dakota has one deadly crash every three days. One of the first things troopers do when they arrive on scene is figure out what caused the accident and whether the people inside the car were wearing a seat belt.

"If you're in a traffic crash and you're buckled up, you have a much higher rate of survival or suffering less significant injuries as long as you are buckled up," said Col. Price.

It is against the law in South Dakota to not wear a seat belt, but that alone can't get you pulled over. Troopers have to see drivers doing something else illegal in order to write them a citation. Colonel Price says handing out tickets doesn't fix the problem though. Education is equally important.

"I think when we show people, do demonstrations with the rollover simulator, seeing the effects of what can happen if you're not buckled in can be very impactful," he explained.

The rollover simulator is taken to schools and various events to show people the reality of how much a seat belt really helps.

"The seat belt keeps you in your vehicle in your seat. You, as something being 60% water have a tendency to cause great physical damage to yourself if you hit a hard surface, like your steering wheel, your dashboard or your windshield," said Lee Axdahl, who is the director of the office of highway safety. "None of these people who were involved in fatal or major injury crashes wake up in the morning saying today is my day. Today is the day that I'll wake up for the last time.

That's why Col. Price still reminds drivers to click it. "We, at the Highway Patrol, do recognize that that's having zero fatal crashes throughout the year is unrealistic although that's what we would wish."

It's not just the victims and their families that are affected.

"We have these officers and first responders all across the state that are routinely responding to these types of crashes," said Col. Price. "The effect that it might have on them long term might not be immediately known. I would love it if we would never have to do that again."

That won't be the case until the reality sets in that seat belts save lives.

"The famous comment I got from my son is 'Dad, we're out of the vehicle. Everybody is fine.' That was the point I knew they had to have seat belts on," said Robertson. "Because you do not flip a car and walk away from it without having a seat belt on."

That's a decision Col. Price is hoping more people will make.

"And they can save themselves from being a victim," he said. Just with a simple click.

Jeremy Robertson's sons were both wearing their seat belts when the sedan rolled. One of them walked away with a small scratch on his leg and the other walked away completely unharmed.

If a trooper pulls you over for a traffic violation and you are not wearing your seat belt, then you will get a ticket. The South Dakota Highway Patrol started this zero tolerance initiative a couple of months ago.