The worst part of Sheriff Mark Overman’s job is having to tell a family that their loved one isn’t coming home, especially when their death could have potentially been prevented had they just buckled up.
Overman was one of a handful of law enforcement officers who gathered at the Scottsbluff Public Safety building on Tuesday to announce the start of the latest Click It or Ticket campaign, which encourages the use of proper restraints.
Representatives from the Nebraska State Patrol, Scottsbluff Fire Department and Scottsbluff Police Department were also present.
Overman said he can think of about a dozen instances in the last eight years where officers have had to tell someone their loved one was killed.
“Most of these instances were young people under the age of 21 who were killed in traffic accidents that we, the first responders, believe ... would not have been killed had they been wearing a seat belt,” He said. “You can keep everything the same — if there was alcohol, if there was a car off the road, a collision, whatever — just the seat belt would have saved their lives.”
Last year, there were 230 traffic fatalities, 175 of them were occupants of passenger vehicles, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation. Of those 175 fatalities, only 59 were wearing a seatbelt while 116 — or 66 percent — were unrestrained.
Mark Segerstrom, administrator of the Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office, said that two-thirds of those fatalities occurred in rural areas.
“The majority of these deaths could have been prevented with the simple clicking of a seatbelt,” he said. “If you’re ejected from a vehicle, the odds that you survive are not in your favor.”
Of those who were ejected from a vehicle in 2017, 83 percent died.
Segerstrom said that those who drive and ride in pickups may have a false sense of security, because trucks are larger than cars.
“The numbers say otherwise,” he said. “Fifty-nine percent of pickup truck occupants who were killed in 2017 were not buckled. That’s compared to 42 percent of passenger car occupants.”
To demonstrate how even a mild collision could result in an ejection, Segerstrom demonstrated the Seat belt Convincer, which is a device that the Nebraska State Patrol uses to simulate a crash at five miles per hour. As Segerstrom hit the end of the Convincer, his body jolted forward and then slammed back again in his seat.
Had he not been restrained, he could have easily been thrown out — and that was at just five miles an hour. It’s a good example, he said, of why wearing a seat belt for a trip down the block is just as important as wearing one for a trip across the country.
During a second demonstration Bobbi Kuhlman of the Scottsbluff Police Department and Jesse Lauruhn of the Scottsbluff Fire Department explained the proper way to install a car seat and restrain a child. Kuhlman and Lauruhn are both certified child passenger safety technicians.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in children 14 or younger. On average, three children died in car wrecks every day in 2017, of those 37 percent were unrestrained. In some cases, the child may not have been properly restrained — NHTSA data shows that 59 percent of the time, car seats are being used incorrectly.
Every month, local certified technicians offer a car seat check at the Scottsbluff Fire Department where they help install car seats and check for the right fit. Kuhlman said parents are encouraged to bring their children with them.
“The reason we like to have them present is because we want to make sure the car seat fits properly to the child,” she said.
Kuhlman said they also ask questions to determine whether the car seat has been in accidents or recalled — if the answer to either of those is yes and the car seat needs to be destroyed, they will provide a new one.
The car seat checks are provided at no cost. The next one is scheduled for Dec. 29, however, technicians are available by appointment outside of the car seat check events by calling 308-630-6265.
The Click It or Ticket Campaign kicks off Wednesday, Nov. 27, and will continue through Dec. 1. Agencies across the state are expected to participate.
Last year, more than 500 law enforcement officers participated in the campaign. They issued 152 seat belt citations, 109 driving under suspension citations, 113 uninsured motorist citations and made 54 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.