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OPINION | DRIVETIME MAHATMA: Belt report in fatalities item of past

by Frank Fellone | May 1, 2021 at 8:13 a.m.

Dear Mahatma: I think the Arkansas State Police no longer makes any mention in fatal crash reports if seat belts were in use, because troopers on the scene aren't forensic investigators, and there are many variables. But I don't trust my memory anymore. For years I thought the Volkswagen on the cover of "Abbey Road" was on the right side of the street. I saw the cover recently and was bumfuzzled to see the VW on the left side. Sheesh. -- Jonathan

Dear Jon: Thank you for allowing us to address this topic again after writing about it a couple of months ago.

That is: How come news organizations, for instance this one, don't report whether a fatal-crash victim was belted? Many readers have wondered, because wearing a seat belt is a vehicle occupant's primary way to stay alive a crash.

Not wearing a seat belt is also a primary traffic offense in Arkansas. Meaning a driver can be pulled over for not wearing one, or his passengers not wearing one. Or, heaven forbid, a toddler standing up in the front seat. That was common practice a couple of generations ago. Turns out that in a front collision a 2-year-old makes a deadly missile. Mostly to himself.

Our answer, lame and halt, was to remember a former editor of this newspaper who believed such information was extraneous at best, and nanny government at worst, and perhaps his views persisted. May we also say that working for this man was a pleasure?

We made an assumption. Break down that word into its colloquial components and give us 40 whacks with a rolled-up copy of the Sports section.

Because we later asked the state police for more information, and got a snoot load.

The most important of which is -- initial reports of traffic deaths do not now include seat belt information. They did, once upon a time and in the tenure of that editor, but not anymore. On the other hand, full and final reports do have a place, a data point, for that information. But the two reports are dramatically different in scope, depth and breath.

Aye, the rub here is in the initial reports, which are released to the media and public as soon as possible after a fatal crash. They are found on the website of the Arkansas State Police. This information is typically what is reported by the news media.

Bill Sadler, who speaks for the state police, described the Arkansas State Police Fatal Crash Preliminary Report Form. It is, Sadler says, a creature born out of convenience and necessity more than 20 years ago to give the news media expedited information, the minimum of known facts in short order after a fatal crash.

Yes, the form did once include information about use of seat belts, Sadler said. But that was then; this is now, and that information is not included.

There is more to say next week.

Fjfellone@gmail.com

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