Many people in La Plata County don’t wear their seat belts, apparently.
According to an observational study in 2017 by the Colorado Department of Transportation, La Plata County ranked the lowest in the state for seat belt use, with only 74 percent of people observed buckled up.
Sam Cole, spokesman for CDOT, said the observational study is conducted annually throughout the state with officials positioned at select locations of heavy traffic during the day to observe seat belt use.
The state’s seat belt use rate, as a whole, was 84 percent, ranking Colorado 36th in the nation.
Cole said the four counties with the lowest seat belt use were in rural parts of the state: La Plata County was the worst at 74 percent. Montezuma County was at 74.4 percent, Cheyenne County (eastern plains) at 75.2 percent and Mesa County (Grand Junction area) at 75.5 percent.
“I was just really struck by the number of counties in Southwest Colorado that have the lowest seat belt use rates,” Cole said. “But low seat belt use and rural areas tend to go hand in hand, unfortunately.”
Not wearing a seat belt has serious consequences for travelers. In 2017, a total of 211 unbuckled drivers and passengers were killed in crashes in Colorado, a 14 percent increase from 2016.
Cole did not have the data for the amount of unbuckled people killed in La Plata County, but he did say 11 people were killed in car accidents in the county in 2017.
Wearing a seat belt is even more of a priority in rural areas, where medical care can be far away, and even then, a patient may have to be transferred to a hospital along the Front Rage for further care.
“Seat belt use is always important, especially in rural communities where the closest hospital may be miles away from the crash,” said Col. Matthew Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol, in a prepared statement. “Seat belts give you the best chance to survive a serious crash. We encourage people to buckle up every time they enter a vehicle.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 58 people could be saved every year if Colorado had a 100 percent seat belt use rate.
Through Sunday, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies are conducting the “Click It or Ticket” seat belt enforcement campaign in rural counties to encourage use.
Last year, 1,306 seat belt citations were issued in rural communities across Colorado during the campaign. Cole did not have a breakdown on how many of those citations were written in La Plata County.
“Unrestrained crash fatalities account for more than half of the motor vehicle occupant fatalities in Colorado,” said Darrell Lingk, director of the Office of Transportation Safety at CDOT, in a prepared statement. “This Click It or Ticket rural enforcement is a reminder that buckling up saves lives. Our goal is to decrease fatalities this year, and seat belt use will be a key factor to achieve this.”
Fines for not buckling up start at $65, and parents or caregivers caught with an improperly restrained child can receive a minimum fine of $82, Cole said.