Study says teens aren't buckling up

Billy Richards says he's alive today because of a choice to buckle his seat belt.

"I credit the seat belt with saving my life," said the 18-year-old Moffat County High School senior. "I take it a lot more seriously, now."

Richards rolled his Honda Civic after falling asleep at the wheel while traveling at 65 mph and suffered only minor injuries.

Now the teen wouldn't dream of driving or riding in a vehicle without wearing a seat belt.

"I have a joke that I say when I get in the car with friends. I say, 'Buckle up for safety,'" he said. "But I mean it."

However, Richards isn't representative of all Colorado teens, according to a recent study by the Colorado State Patrol.

The report states that teens are less likely than adults to buckle up.

"I think when they're young, they think they'll live forever," said Sgt. Gary Meirose of the Colorado State Patrol. "You don't think of the little things that could keep you safe."

A statewide study by the patrol shows that almost 71 percent of teens between the ages of 16 and 20 reported wearing seat belts compared to more than 79 percent of adults. The study was conducted in November 2004 among youths in Colorado's 14 most populated counties. The Western Slope's rate of teens wearing seat belts was lower than the state average, at almost 64 percent.

More than half of last year's 23 fatalities in the local patrol's five-county region included people not wearing seat belts, Meirose said. Of those deaths, three were high school seniors from Jackson County.

The Craig Police Department has implemented seat-belt safety awards to award Moffat County High School drivers who are witnessed wearing seat belts.

Capt. Jerry DeLong of the Craig Police Department said the program gives students an incentive to buckle up. Last year, the department gave out 226 awards.

"I think at that age, there might be an attitude that they're invincible," Delong said.

DeLong said the department doesn't keep tabs on the numbers of teens who report using seat belts. However, he said, the prospect of getting an award seems to have helped students to remember to buckle up.

Meirose said people generally are more likely to buckle up when they're planning a long journey rather than a short drive. But that reasoning is skewed, he said.

"In town, there might be more of a problem of people not buckling up," Meirose said. "If people are going on a long trip, they tend to buckle up, but most accidents happen 10 miles from home."

Colorado law states that drivers younger than 17 may have only one passenger in the front seat and only as many passengers in the back seat as there are seat belts. Driving with passengers not wearing seat belts carries a minimum $40 fine and two points against a teen's driving record.

Adult drivers and front seat passengers must be buckled up but can be pulled over by law enforcement officers on a secondary offense. Seat-belt citations carry a minimum $18 fine.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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