Two years ago Shelby Feugate was a 20-year-old who never wore her seat belt.
“I thought they were uncomfortable and I just didn’t like them,” Feugate said. “I never thought I’d get into a crash.”
Feugate spoke from a wheelchair Wednesday, May 14 at a Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) news conference at the Shawnee Police Department. Feugate says she never wore a seat belt until after the crash that cost the use of her legs. In 2012, a car she was driving was struck by another vehicle on the passenger side. The other driver was wearing a seatbelt and walked away; Feugate suffered a spinal cord injury that made her a paraplegic.
“I went to a rehabilitation center for two months to learn how to live life in a wheelchair,” Feugate said. “What I miss most about my life before is being spontaneous. Now I have to plan everything in advance, even just to go out.”
In May, the Kansas Highway Patrol and sheriffs and police departments, including the Gardner Police Department, will be working overtime to catch drivers who are not buckled up.
“Given the choice between a crash death notification and writing a seat-belt ticket, any law officer would much prefer the latter,” said Shawnee Police Sgt. Jim Baker. “Making a death notification is one of the hardest parts of being an officer, especially when simply buckling up would have saved a life.”
The extra enforcement is part of a larger, national Click It or Ticket mobilization that runs May 19 – June 1.
Gardner officers will begin additional enforcements related to Click It or Ticket on May 19. Local drivers can expect increased police presence on city streets as the Gardner Police Department joins 150 other law enforcement agencies in aggressively enforcing Kansas occupant restraint and other traffic laws. Specifically, officers will be enforcing both the Safety Belt Use Act and the Child Passenger Safety Act.
These laws require that all occupants must be appropriately restrained. Law enforcement officers can stop vehicles and issue tickets when they observe front seat occupants, or children under the age of 14, riding without proper restraint. Occupants, ages 14 and over, are cited individually. In the event that a passenger under the age of 14 is observed to be unrestrained the driver will be cited. Children under the age of four must be secured in an approved child safety seat. Children, ages four through seven, must be securely belted into an approved booster seat unless taller than 4-feet, 9-inches or heavier than 80 pounds. Children, ages eight through 13 must be safety-belted. In addition, the act prohibits persons under the age of 14 from riding in any part of a vehicle not intended for carrying passengers, such as a pickup bed.
“Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer vacation season, and we want everyone to arrive alive,” Baker said. “Just buckle up, or you will receive a ticket.”
Kansas law allows that law enforcement officers can stop any vehicle simply for a seat-belt violation. No other violation needs be observed. Baker said enforcement will focus on younger motorists, pickup trucks and nighttime motorists. National statistics show crash fatalities in these categories are more likely to be related to failure to wear seat belts than other categories.
Jenny Scheve, a former trauma nurse who now speaks for ThinkFirst of Kansas City, an injury prevention program, says the biggest challenges with unbelted crash survivors are head and spinal cord injuries.
“The body cannot regenerate damaged brain or spine cells,” Scheve said. “Crash victims who were not wearing a seat belt are the most difficult cases, medically for the treatment staff and emotionally for family and friends. Lives are changed.”
Chris Bortz, KDOT Traffic Safety manager, said Kansans are below the national average in seat belt use. In 2012 Kansas had a 79.5 percent usage rate, which is 39th in the country, compared with 86 percent in the rest of the United States.
“To save lives, we’ve created a new message that Kansans will see on television and online,” Bortz said. “The message emphasizes that you will be stopped and you will get a ticket if you don’t wear a seat belt. In Kansas it’s the law. Click it or ticket.”
The aim of the KDOT grant program is to drastically reduce the number of preventable deaths and injuries that occur when unbelted drivers and passengers are involved in traffic crashes.
According to KDOT’s Traffic Safety Office, almost half of those killed in crashes are not belted in, while 98 percent of crash occupants who suffer no injuries of any kind are belted in.
Unrestrained vehicle occupants involved in a crash have about an 8 percent chance of not suffering an injury in a car accident.