Seat belt check finds room for improvement

Observations by a local task force noted a rate of use lower than the state average.

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WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla drivers scored slightly below the state's seat belt use rate, but above national figures, according to a recent survey.

Members of the Walla Walla County Traffic Safety Task Force spent a recent morning doing two observational seat belt surveys. They found that out of 200 drivers, 96 percent were wearing seat belts. That puts local drivers below the state's rate of 97.6 percent, but well above the national use rate of 85 percent, according to a news release.

The observational survey also yielded other results. One driver was seen using a hand-held cellphone while driving, and three children were observed sitting in the front seats of vehicles.

Driving while talking on a cellphone is now a primary traffic offense in the state, with a fine of $124. State law also requires children 12 and younger to ride in the back seat of a vehicle when practical to do so.

When used properly, lap and shoulder seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passengers by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

For light-truck occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate to critical injury by 65 percent. Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers.

According to national statistics, three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly. Nancy McClenny-Walters, coordinator for the local Traffic Safety Task Force, said the misuse rate for the Walla Walla area is over 90 percent.

"Too many parents assume if they have a good car seat and a safe vehicle, that their child will be safe when in actuality even just a small error in installation could cause severe injury to the child in a collision," she said.

Parents may call the Task Force for individual car seat check ups or attend the next local clinic on Sept. 24, coinciding with National Car Seat Check Day. For more information, contact the Task Force at 524-2920.

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