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Heed the Evidence--Wear Your Seat Belt : Valley accident reports indicate buckling up saves lives

Statistics show that more American motorists are buckling their seat belts, and that California is leading the nation in this respect. But a perusal of the news since late November seems to provide scant evidence to support that good news. Throughout the San Fernando Valley and its environs, people failed to take this simple step of self-preservation, and died because of it. What gives?

Over the New Year’s holiday weekend, for example, Carlos Edmundo Flores of Sepulveda became the first Valley motorist of the year to die in a traffic accident while not wearing a seat belt.

And the frightening traffic accident at Louise Avenue and Sherman Way in Van Nuys late last month served as one of several other examples of the tragedy that can result when people fail to fasten their seat belts. Of the eight people critically injured in that accident, only two were wearing seat belts. It’s a familiar litany that was repeated near Gorman later in the week, where dozens of vehicles were involved in wrecks on the Golden State Freeway in the Tejon Pass. Motorists saw that fog had cut visibility to two feet. Talk about a time when one ought to have had one’s seat belt tightly cinched.

On another recent day, on California 126 near the Ventura and Los Angeles county line, a teen-ager was killed and her sister seriously injured when their car careened off the roadway. They were not wearing seat belts.

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A few days earlier, two 22-year-old men were ejected from their vehicle and killed in a crash on the Antelope Valley Freeway near Agua Dulce. Again, no seat belts.

A 38-year-old Panorama City man had been recently ticketed for not wearing his seat belt. He did not heed the warning and was killed in December when his car crashed into a traffic light pole. He was not wearing the seat belt.

A 27-year-old woman lost control of her car on Bouquet Canyon Road near Santa Clarita. She died. She was not wearing a seat belt.

In a two-car collision in Palmdale, three out of the four people involved were wearing seat belts. They survived. One was not wearing a seat belt. She was killed when she was ejected from the car.

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A Los Angeles police sergeant totaled her car on Dec. 22 when she hit a truck while rushing to the scene of a robbery. Sgt. Corina Gabrielle Smith was traveling between 45 and 60 m.p.h. at the time. She was wearing a seat belt, and escaped with a few sprains. And we have at least one other example of the need to wear seat belts.

On Dec. 16, a car carrying two Cal State Northridge softball players was struck nearly head-on by a pickup truck that was traveling at about 50 m.p.h. The lives of both players were probably saved, said police, because they were wearing their seat belts.

There are enough laws on the books. Indeed, California was the first state in the nation to upgrade its seat belt law to a “primary” offense, in 1993. That meant that law enforcement officers could stop motorists for not wearing their seat belts and did not require any other reason to pull them over.

A state law also went into effect last year that barred pickup truck passengers from riding in the bed of the truck without seat belts. And a law that raises the penalties for transporting young children without seat belts went into effect on Jan. 1. The cost of a first offense here will now be $50 instead of $20, and $100 instead of $50 on subsequent offenses.

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Maybe the small fine associated with the adult seat belt law is part of the problem. The penalty for the first offense for not wearing a seat belt is $22. That’s just $2 above what it costs to leave your car at a parking meter on the street without feeding it a quarter. Maybe a heftier fine would persuade more adults to buckle up every time they get behind the wheel.


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