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Seat belt saves sheriff's deputy in crash

Managing editor

It’s one of the easiest things a driver or passenger can do. It only takes a couple of seconds.

Fastening a seat belt could be one of the most important decisions a driver or passenger can make. It could be the difference between life and death.

A crash can occur quickly. Often there is no time to react.

Ask Marion County Sheriff Deputy Matt Vogt.

He’s a trained, professional driver.

“I know I’m not supposed to swerve to avoid hitting a deer,” Vogt said, but he’s only human. “It all happened so fast.”

Vogt has been with the sheriff’s department for two years and in law enforcement for five years. He’s worked quite a few accidents — including fatality crashes. He already knew the importance of wearing seat belts — now he knows first-hand.

When his accident occurred, Vogt was in a county-owned Dodge Durango. His canine partner was in a kennel in the backseat.

“The deer came from nowhere, I swerved and drove into a ditch, hit a culvert which sent me to another ditch, and then hit a telephone pole,” Vogt said.

The vehicle’s air bags didn’t deploy until it struck the pole.

“Some people think they don’t need a seat belt since their vehicle has air bags,” Vogt said. “That’s not true.”

He explained that when a crash occurs, anything that isn’t fastened or contained becomes airborne.

“Passengers become injured when they hit other passengers or objects in a vehicle,” Vogt said.

By being belted to a seat, passengers have a better chance of surviving because they aren’t “flying around” in the vehicle or ejected from the vehicle, he said.

When Vogt’s vehicle came to rest, the only injury he sustained was burn marks to his neck where the seat belt was. The dog remained safe in the kennel, even though the carrier unsnapped and moved forward, against the front seat.

“I definitely would have sustained more injuries from the air bags and loose things in the vehicle,” Vogt said. “Seat belts keep passengers stationary instead of impacting the steering wheel or being ejected.”

A video that resonates for Vogt is one of a taxi driver who had a backseat camera. The driver did not have a seat belt fastened, was driving 30 mph, and had an accident.

“The driver was thrown around the front seat and then thrown in the back seat — from a crash at 30 mph,” Vogt said. “It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you’re driving, the impact can seriously injure or kill a person at any speed.”

Bucks for Buckles

Safe Kids of Kansas, State Farm Insurance, and Kansas Department of Transportation sponsored a “Bucks for Buckles” program Thursday at Marion and Hillsboro. Law enforcement, Safe Kids Marion County representatives, and volunteers stopped vehicles around schools and checked seat belts. If everyone in the vehicle was wearing a seat belt, the driver received a one-dollar bill. If they weren’t, they received information about seat belt safety.

Fifty-five vehicles were monitored at each school — Hillsboro High School, Hillsboro Elementary School, Marion High School, and Marion Elementary School. Eight vehicles had unrestrained passengers at HES, three at HHS, and one at MHS.

At MES, officials observed children had buckled up but the parents were not.

“If parents buckle up, 93 percent of the kids do,” Safe Kids Marion County Coordinator Sondra Mayfield said. “If parents do not, only 23 percent of their kids will. The focus really needs to be on the parents.”

Statistics

Even though traffic deaths across the U.S. in 2008 had decreased from previous years, Kansans still are not buckling up.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts are used 77.4 percent of the time by Kansans, making Kansas 39th in usage.

The state with the highest percentage of usage was Michigan at 97.2 percent. Wyoming has the lowest percentage at 68.6 percent.

Nationwide, seat belt usage is 83 percent.

Statistics show the best way to survive a crash is to buckle up. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 4 to 33-year-olds. In 2008, there were 385 traffic fatalities in Kansas. Sixty-four percent of those killed were not wearing seat belts.

State law requires teens to be buckled up in any seating position in vehicles.

The force of impact from a 30 mph crash is like falling headfirst from a three-story building.

Eighty percent of all crashes occur at speeds less than 40 mph and 75 percent of all crashes occur within 25 miles of home.

Last modified Sept. 16, 2009

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