LENA MITCHELL: Wider use of seatbelts, child safety seats saves lives

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

Whether or not individuals of legal age will be able to purchase alcoholic beverages, and which beverages they will have access to, is again before the Mississippi Legislature this session.
Recently the state House of Representatives passed House Bill 928 that would allow municipalities in dry counties with a population of at least 5,000 to vote on whether to offer sale of alcohol by the glass in restaurants. The Senate now has the bill for consideration.
A pair of other bills – House Bill 1422 and Senate Bill 2878 – are being considered to allow higher alcoholic content in beer and, if passed, could be signed into law and take effect by July 1.
Any time the question of legalizing alcohol sales in a dry county or city is raised, opposition is very vocal and intense.
Opponents say legalizing alcohol sales increases the risk of alcohol-related traffic deaths, while proponents say people who want to drink are driving across state and county lines to obtain alcohol, many of them consuming it as they drive back to their homes in dry counties.
These issues will continue to be debated, but if all the effort and energy spent on the issue of alcohol sales were turned to the issue of encouraging a higher rate of seat belt use and child safety seats, there’s no doubt that many lives could be saved by reducing the number of fatalities on Mississippi roads and highways.
According to a 2004 Mississippi Health Policy Brief, the equivalent of “three yellow school buses full of school age children dies each year in Mississippi motor vehicle crashes.”
The number of young adults ages 21 to 34 who died in Mississippi motor vehicle crashes each year would fill four school buses.
More than half the unintentional injury deaths in Mississippi for the most recent two-year period available were traffic fatalities, the report continued. In 2001, 236 people’s lives were saved in Mississippi traffic accidents because of seat belt use, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If 100 percent of passengers had used seat belts, the agency estimates that 147 more lives could have been saved.
Mississippi has passed a primary seat belt law, meaning law enforcement can stop a driver for violating laws about seat belt use and child safety seats. However, the number of traffic fatalities in which no seat belt was used remains high.
As recently as 2005 Corinth had a city grant that supported SNAP, a seat belt awareness program.
There were periodic contests for schools and plants where the agency monitored seat belt use by people entering and exiting the parking lots at various locations around the city. Awards were given to schools and companies with the highest levels of seat belt use. Unfortunately, the grant funding ran out and the issue has faded from the public consciousness.
The deadly statistics that surround failure to use seat belts and child safety seats are a measurable threat in our communities.
If only activists concerned about safety on our roadways would turn their time, attention and money to helping improve seat belt and child safety seat use rather than waiting for the potential, emotionally charged possibility that alcohol comes to town.
Lena Mitchell writes a Sunday column for the Daily Journal. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.