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WATCH NOW: Stepping up enforcement of seat belts
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WATCH NOW: Stepping up enforcement of seat belts

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Nebraska has the fourth-worst observed seat belt usage in the United States, according to a press release announcing the participation of the Platte County Sheriff's Office in a nationwide "Click it or Ticket" effort.

In the Nov. 13 release, Platte County Sheriff Ed Wemhoff said the goal of the mobilization effort is to educate the public that seat belts save lives.

Between Nov. 16 and 29, Platte County deputies will be working overtime to focus on seat belt enforcement in high traffic areas.

"We don’t measure success by the number of tickets issued, it’s about reaching people and promoting a simple lifesaving habit," Sheriff's Office representatives stated in the release. "Everyone needs to use seat belts."

Columbus Community Hospital Emergency Room Trauma, Stroke and Service Line Coordinator Samantha Lozos said seat belts are the single best defense against reckless, distracted or intoxicated drivers.

"It's not a matter of just leaving it up to your air bags. Your seat belt is what saves your life. Your air bags could potentially harm you if you don't have your seat belt on," Lozos said.

Wearing your seat belt properly is also important, Lozos said.

"That means not tucking the shoulder belt behind your back or under your arm, and making sure that the lap belt is across your pelvis and not your abdomen. Across your chest and pelvis, that's where your seat belt needs to be," Lozos said. "Your ribcage and your pelvis are way stronger than your abdomen and neck. Your neck and abdomen have more soft tissue that can be easily injured with improper seat belt use."

Steve Barnes, owner of Hometown Insurance Agency, 2822 23rd St., also said it's important for people to wear seat belts.

"Bodily injury from a car accident can be minimized when wearing a seat belt versus not wearing a seat belt," Barnes said.

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According to the Nebraska Department of Transportation's Highway Safety Office, there were 20 passenger vehicle crash fatalities in Platte County between 2012 and 2017. Of the fatalities, 70% were not using their seat belt.

But, Barnes said it's easy to see that there are people who still don't wear their seatbelts.

"I think in driving by people you see that on a daily basis," Barnes said.

People may not believe in the effectiveness of a seat belt or say they didn't have enough time to put it on or don't need to because they're running a short errand.

But, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most fatal crashes happen within 25 miles of home and at speeds under 40 miles per hour.

Barnes said it's particularly important to wear a seat belt in the event of a rollover and high-speed collisions.

"Getting thrown from the vehicle is one of the major causes of death at those type of accidents. The seat belt will keep you within the car, which is safer than being thrown outside the car or having the car roll on top of you because you're outside the car," Barnes said.

The Sheriff's Office release said the mobilization effort will focus on unbuckled drivers with passengers and children.

"Deputies will be cracking down on all other traffic law violations that may lead to seatbelt violations," the release said.

Wemhoff told the Telegram that funding for the mobilization is provided by a grant from the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, which will cover the overtime hours worked by the deputies.

"We believe strongly that whether you're just leaving to the house to go a block down the road or driving a long distance, you should always wear your seat belt. It's a safety feature added to the vehicle to protect you," Barnes said.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

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