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Seat Belt and Your Safety

09 Feb 2013

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Safe driving with Jonas Agwu

Some years ago, a very senior colleague of mine told me a pathetic story of a friend of his who died as a result of a brief error in judgement towards the seat-belt use. According to his story, his friend had gone out with a girlfriend on a certain Friday night. After some drinks, it was time to leave, and the friend obviously thought, and probably spoke it out loud, ‘well, it’s a Friday night, no pestering law enforcement agent on the road to jaw-jaw on seat-belt.’  Note that this man had hitherto been known to be highly compliant to the practice of belting up. But, unfortunately, this particular Friday took a different turn.  Even when his girlfriend advised him to use his belt, the man refused.  And so, tipsy, (outright drunk?) he engaged gear and drove off.  But the girlfriend, smart girl, decided to use her own seat belt. And that’s probably why she’s still alive. Because on approaching the big round-about by the Area 1 Junction in the FCT, the man had a crash and died. The girlfriend was alive to tell the story of what had transpired.

Tie this to another story involving a colleague’s brother-in-law, who is a military Officer. He had just rounded up from a late night assignment, and, obviously fatigued and sleepy, was driving home without using his seatbelt. On his way, somewhere in Lagos, he lost control, ran into a pavement, bounced back to hit a stationary vehicle, which acted as a wedge to finally stop him.  But not before the force had snapped his head forward to crash into the windscreen, with his chest hitting the steering.  Fortunately, he is still alive to tell the story by himself.

There are so many others, people we know, some of them dead, some of them alive to tell the story by themselves, some with life scaring injuries, some of them drivers, some of them passengers.  The deaths, or severity of injuries, could have been avoided if only they had worn their seatbelts.

Seat belts save lives. It can’t be put simpler than that.  Seatbelts have been adjudged to be the most effective traffic safety device for the prevention of death and injury in the event of a crash.  Wearing a seat belt can reduce risk of crash injuries by fifty percent, according to the Global National Safety Council.

In Nigeria, when the issue of seatbelt is raised, our minds immediately run to front seat occupants.  It is a general consensus that seatbelts are basically for those in front. Come to think of it, it has been a widely-held belief that seatbelt use is just a necessary nuisance to avoid the greater nuisance of been stopped by an over-zealous Road Safety Official. But that is a far cry from the truth.

A seatbelt is designed to protect the occupants of a vehicle against any dangerous movement in the event of a crash or sudden stop.  A seatbelt reduces the severity or even the possibility of an injury in a crash by preventing the occupants from colliding with interior elements of the vehicle or other passengers.  It keeps occupants positioned correctly for maximum safety, and prevents them from being ejected from the vehicle.

Statistics from traffic management agencies and groups in developed countries reveal percentage of severity of injuries of deaths resulting from non-use of seatbelts in the event of a crash or a sudden stop.  In the United Kingdom, out of the 1,432 car occupants killed in 2007, 34% had not belted up.  An estimated 565 people were not using seatbelt when killed in 2005. 370 would have probably survived if they had been properly restrained.  In Canada, the ‘insignificant’ 7% of people not wearing seatbelts account for almost 40% of fatalities in crashes.  In the US, seatbelts saved almost 13,000 lives in 2009.  Nigeria may not have the sophisticated data bank on this as at today, as the afore-mentioned countries, but fact remains that deaths and permanent injuries are occurring due to non-use of seat belts.

On January, 1st, 2003, the Federal Road Safety Corps launched a decisive enforcement on the use of the seat belt nationwide. One could say without fear of contradiction that the launch was extremely successful, with about 90% compliance level recorded all over the country.  However, the focus as at then was on front seat occupants. Ten years down the line, the need arises to take another long look at the issue of seat belt usage in the country. 
Evolving times come with evolving technologies, which in turn come with associated complications and risk factors, which in their own turn require commensurate strategies to combat.  As technology improves on vehicles and roads, traffic management strategies must also be employed to examine ways to minimise crash causative factors inherent in these.
Thus, the advantages of seatbelt use for ALL occupants of the vehicle cannot be over-emphasized.

The following is a piece I culled from a safety article from the Oklahoma State University, and I’d like to present it just as it was written:
Imagine running as fast as you can - into a wall. You’d expect to get pretty banged up. Do you think you could stop yourself if the wall suddenly loomed up when you were two feet away from it? This is exactly the situation you face when the front of your car hits something at only 15 miles an hour. The car stops in the first tenth of a second, but you keep on at the same rate you were going in the car until something stops you - the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield - if you’re not wearing your safety belt.. Bad enough at 15 miles an hour, but at 30 miles you hit “the wall” four times as hard as you would at 15. Or to put it another way, with the same impact you’d feel as if you fell three stories.

A properly worn safety belt keeps that second collision - the human collision - from happening.
Quite revealing and frightening, you might say.
Now, the reasons I hear people give for not using seatbelt is also quite revealing and interesting.  They go like this:
        “I can’t have a crash, I’m a good driver”.  But a bad driver could crash into you.  Or you could have a sudden stop.
        “They’re so uncomfortable”. Wouldn’t you rather be uncomfortable than be endangered?
“The belt will trap me”. Little chance of that happening. And the best place to be during a crash is in your car. If you’re thrown out of a car, you’re 25 times more likely to die.  And if you need to get out in a hurry, in the event of fire or other danger, you stand a better chance of doing that when you’re conscious and not knocked out inside the car. 

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