Seat belt enforcement program targets pickup trucks

Thursday, November 25th 2004, 6:06 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Pickup truck drivers are the focus of a new seat belt program geared toward increasing usage and saving lives.

The "Buckle Up in Your Truck" program was launched on Nov. 14 by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma City Police Department and safety advocates in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and several American Indian nations.

The program targets pickup and sport utility vehicle drivers who do not wear seat belts. The campaign will last through Sunday.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Pete Norwood said the Thanksgiving holiday is considered the most traveled and most deadly time of the year on Oklahoma highways.

"But if we could just have the traffic operating at a safe speed and with seat belts, we will have less injuries and less fatalities," Norwood said.

Norwood said pickups are more likely than cars to roll over during an accident. He said people in pickups or SUVs are 70 percent to 80 percent more likely to live if they are wearing a seat belt.

Norwood said there have been times when he has gone to accident scenes where a pickup has rolled over and the inside of the pickup is unscathed. However, if the driver was not wearing a seat belt, he may be ejected.

"I have to go knock on a door and tell a loved one that somebody they know has died and they ask me why. Well, it is usually because they weren't wearing their seat belt," Norwood said. "It can all be gone if they just wore a seat belt."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2003 only 66.4 percent of Oklahoma pickup drivers used seat belts.

When it comes to seat belt compliance, Norwood said pickup drivers are about 15 percentage points lower in Oklahoma than other drivers.

Yukon farmer Wayland Cooley said when he is driving his pickup around his hometown, he won't use his seat belt.

"I have been stopped a couple of times for not wearing my seat belt. I know I should wear it, I just don't take the time," Cooley said. "It could save my life if I were in a wreck."

Sean Hanna, who has used a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident in 1991 and talks to school children about brain and spinal cord injury prevention, said the "Buckle Up in Your Truck" program is a wonderful idea because of the lives it could save.

"If you don't have your seat belt on, you are being thrown forward with a massive force," Hanna said. "It just takes one time, and there is plenty of room to live inside of a vehicle."