THP advises: Buckle up, survive the holidays

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF

   Remember the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty having a great fall? "All of the kings horses and all of the kings men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again ..."
   Well, hospital emergency room staff can't work miracles either. When someone is ejected from a vehicle, usually there's little emergency personnel can do to make them whole again.
   Sure, some adults find seat belts an annoyance; and children often cry and whine at the prospect of being buckled into safety seats. But a little bit of inconvenience is nothing compared to shopping for a casket and funeral attire for a loved one during a holiday season.
   Last week, a 17-month-old toddler who was strapped in the back seat of her mother's car was whisked away by a Memphis man during a carjacking. The man eventually struck a concrete barrier near Interstate 55 and spun off the roadway. The child, who was uninjured, probably would have fared much worse had she not been properly restrained.
   According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 to 4. Lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.
   Tennessee Department of Safety officials say the number of fatalities during the Thanksgiving holiday have decreased four out of the past five years.
   "That's not a coincidence," said Safety Commissioner Mike Greene. "We've worked very hard to enforce the traffic laws, be visible on our state's roadways, and work with state, federal and local agencies on programs such as "Click It or Ticket," which resulted in a marked increase in the number of Tennessee drivers and passengers who buckle up."
   This year's 102-hour holiday period begins at 6 p.m. today and continues through midnight Sunday. Tennessee Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officials will be out in force this holiday season, one of the busiest traffic periods of the year, in an attempt to ensure that the downward trend in traffic fatalities continues.
   According to current statistics, there have been more than 130 fewer traffic deaths reported so far this year in Tennessee compared to the year 2000.
   Last year, there were nine fatal crashes across the state resulting in 10 deaths. Five of those crashes involved single vehicles; four were multiple vehicle crashes and two of the fatalities occurred in alcohol-related accidents.
   "Nine of the 10 people who were killed last year were vehicle occupants and only one was wearing a seat belt," according to THP Col. Jerry Scott. "Two were ejected from their vehicles."
   Nov. 19-25 is Operation ABC (America Buckles Up Children) Mobilization. This year, Operation ABC will continue supporting the efforts of law enforcement across America with its campaign to make sure people wear their seat belts and secure their children in child safety seats, booster seats or seat belts.
   Larry Shell, assistant chief of police at Elizabethton Police Department, said, "The police department would like to remind motorists to use caution during the holiday season and to buckle up. Elizabethton Police Department has certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians on duty who can show parents how to properly install child safety seats."
   While adults only need to secure themselves with a seat belt, children under 8 years old should be restrained in a child safety seat, unless they are more than 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Seats are required to be used until a child weighs at least 40 pounds. After that, a booster seat should be used to position the seat belt properly until a child is 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches tall, according to the Safety Administration.
   "Thanksgiving is a holiday that traditionally brings families together, and this year more than ever we realize a need to gather with loved ones and friends," said Safety Commissioner Greene.
   Here are a few statistics from the Safety Administration to keep in mind when preparing for holiday travel:
   * Nearly half of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes last year weren't using seat belts or secured in child safety seats. In fatal crashes last year, 56 percent of the vehicle occupants who didn't use seat belts or child safety seats were killed, more than double the 27 percent who were properly restrained.
   * In 2000, only 1 percent of the occupants reported to have been using seat belts were totally ejected from their vehicles, compared with 22 percent of unrestrained occupants.
   * Ejection from a vehicle is one of the most injurious events that can happen to a person in a crash. In fatal crashes last year, 75 percent of those ejected from the vehicles were killed.