Renewing Call for Seat Belt Safety

By Michael Hill

Ken Van Sant says it’s all about safety so even before the car is moving, everybody’s buckled up, including the family dog and even while he gets his gas pumped.

“It’s a good safety practice. A lot of people have been thrown from cars and it’s not a way I want to die,” he said.

But it is the way some have been dying in New Jersey and beyond. The state Division of Highway Traffic Safety says 87 percent of New Jerseyans buckle up in the front seat compared to only 48 percent in the rear seat.

“Those who are not buckled in the back seat become like a bullet and it becomes dangerous to everyone in the vehicle. So, it’s important that all drivers and passengers regardless of where they are in the vehicle to buckle up,” said New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky.

New Jersey State Police say they suspect Princeton mathematician John Nash and his wife Alicia were not wearing seat belts when the taxi they were in crashed and tossed them from the car on the Turnpike.

For two decades or so, New Jersey has been running its “Click It or Ticket” campaign — part educational and part enforcement.

In last year’s two-week campaign in May, New Jersey police officers wrote 26,635 citations for seat belt violations, up nearly 600 from the year before.

Despite the numbers, the state says the campaign is saving lives.

“You have a much better chance of surviving a crash, actually you have a 75 percent chance of surviving a crash if you are buckled in a seat belt,” Poedubicky said. “Front and back seat.”

Some drivers say it’s about exercising common sense.

“Number one thing in my mind when I get into the car. Every seat belt has to be on before I start the car and I’m moving. So this is important for everybody,” said driver Alaba Ogunleye.

Some drivers are die-hard when it comes to buckling up. Some see it as an accessory, ignoring the risks, thinking it won’t happen to them.

“Well, I know, but sometimes I got asthma and I can’t have the seat belt too tight, you know,” said driver Clinton Barlow III.

“I don’t wear my seat belt. I lean my chair back and then I drive. You know what I mean, I’m a cool guy,” said Aaron Ingram. What about when the cops come? “I slap it around my neck and don’t even click it. I understand the Click It or Ticket, but you gotta catch me,” he said.

“He’s very dangerous and god bless him so nothing won’t happen to him,” said passenger Tiana Thompson.

“The reasons are not very good reasons,” Poedubicky said.

The Highway Traffic Safety Division says buckling up is also still the best defense against drunk driving.