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OPINION | DRIVETIME MAHATMA: Regardless, seat belts are the law

by Frank Fellone | May 8, 2021 at 8:19 a.m.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesterweek, when we wrote about fatal traffic accident reports and seat-belt use.

Previously: The Arkansas State Police issue initial reports on fatal wrecks. These reports are minimal, even scant, in the information provided. They are creatures of deadline, designed to accommodate news organizations that want just the facts, ma'am, and want them now. These reports do not now, but once upon a time did, include seat-belt information.

The other report is called the Arkansas Motor Vehicle Crash Report. It is required by statute to be compiled, and can be vastly more complicated than the initial report dispensed for press and public. As Bill Sadler, who speaks for the state police, reminded us, the investigation of a fatal crash can go on for days or weeks, depending on the circumstances of the crash. Also consider the time it takes for analysis by the state Crime Laboratory, should those circumstances require analysis.

On a personal note, our family recently lost a friend to a traffic accident. Actually, there were three people killed in this wreck, which included six vehicles. Even those of us who lack knowledge of accident investigation and reconstruction can understand that an accurate report of an event of such complexity and consequence will take a long time to complete.

Sadler added two more considerations. First, that a fatal wreck can sometimes generate criminal charges, and thus a trooper's report won't be approved by his supervisor until all the facts are documented. Second, that a final review of an investigative report may include input from a prosecuting attorney should felony charges result.

We looked at a copy of the Arkansas Motor Vehicle Crash Report, and saw a box labeled "Safety Equip." Meaning what?

This section, Sadler said, will list whether restraint systems were in use. Those include shoulder and/or lap belt, child restraint system forward-facing or rear-facing, an unknown type of child restraint system, or a restraint system of some other kind. Other safety equipment would include air bags, motorcycle helmets or eye protection. Also seating positions inside any vehicle.

Aha -- there's an eject box. May we assume that if an occupant is ejected, he wasn't belted?

Assume nothing, Sadler said, because there are circumstances in which a vehicle occupant might be ejected while still using some form of restraint. Troopers will ask survivors who was, or wasn't, belted in. Or ask medical personnel about bruising that would be consistent with seat-belt use. The trooper also would examine the belts inside the vehicle.

However, Sadler said, ejection typically occurs because the person was not using the safety equipment as prescribed by the manufacturer.

So do seat belts save lives?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this: For drivers and front-seat passengers, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45%, and cut the risk of serious injury by 50%.

In Arkansas, it's also the law.


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