I HATE TO read stories about people dying in car crashes. It’s so tragic and in many cases avoidable.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, sent out a press release Nov. 13 about car crashes in which several people died — and they were not wearing seat belts.

How sad for them and their families. I do not wish that on anyone.

But I can’t help but shout to the heavens when this happens.

We’ve all been taught seat belts save lives, yet there are still people who don’t buckle up when they get in their vehicles. I can’t say those who died that weekend did so as a result of not wearing seat belts, but one has to wonder.

I have covered hundreds of vehicle crashes in my nearly 29 years as a reporter, and early on I began to notice a pattern to the accidents.

When I covered a rollover, the people wearing seat belts typically survived, much to my surprise, and those not wearing them often perished.

People who did not wear seat belts and were thrown from vehicles were in the most precarious situations because they would hit trees or rocks or other hard items that caused head injuries, and many times they proved fatal.

I remember in the early 1990s a young Skowhegan police officer, Dan Summers, was assigned by then-Chief Larry Jones to educate people about the importance of wearing seat belts.

I wrote a story about Summers’ efforts at the time and remember having my suspicions about accidents in general confirmed when he told me those who wear seat belts are more likely to survive car accidents than those who do not. I believe the same goes for motorcyclists and helmets, but that’s another matter.

I hadn’t spoken in many years with Summers, who now is public safety director for the town of Lincoln, but always remembered his words.

Now in law enforcement 27 years, Summers started at Skowhegan Police Department in his early 20s in 1989 and then held just about every title there, including officer, detective, detective-sergeant, deputy chief and interim chief before heading to Lincoln in 2013.

On Monday I decided to look Summers up and revisit the seat belt issue.

Aside from being surprised to get a call from me after all these years, Summers, now 49, said it’s not even an argument anymore — statistics are on your side regarding seat belts and survival, depending on how fast one is driving and other factors.

Summers said he sees more people wearing seat belts now than in the 1990s when he was a young officer in Skowhegan. He believes that is partly due to enforcement details and designated seat belt awareness weeks or months. Often grants are available to do seat belt enforcement, he said.

“On the whole, when I review accident reports, I’ve seen better compliance of people wearing seat belts, at least up in this area,” he said.

Summers’ stance is the same as it was more than two dozen years ago — that unless one has a doctor’s note saying someone should not wear a seat belt — he or she must always buckle up.

“Don’t expect the air bag system to work just on its own,” he said. ” They’re designed to use in conjunction with seat belts.”

It may sound like a broken record, but it’s one worth repeating — buckle up and remind your kids to do the same.

When push comes to shove, it will likely save their lives, as well as your own.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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