Aug. 21, 2008
By Molly Shaker
Knowing how to remain safe in a motor vehicle is something that drivers and passengers should keep in mind anytime they’re on the road.
And nothing, according to Tom Williams, regional manager for AAA northern New England in Montpelier, is more important than buckling up.
Though the percentage of people in Vermont who wear their seat belts is higher than the national average, 15 percent of the state’s population still doesn’t.
Fifty-five percent of the auto fatalities in the Green Mountain State are a result of this 15 percent who don’t buckle up, according to Tom Williams.
Women tend to wear their seat belts more often than men, and people who drive cars tend to wear their safety belts more than people who drive trucks, Williams said.
Before the age of 16 — the age at which a Vermonter is old enough to obtain a junior operator’s permit — the state enforces a mandatory seat belt law.
This law requires individuals 15 and younger to be in a restraint system of some sort, according to information provided by Michele Laberge, child passenger safety specialist for Vermont’s Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Infants must ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 1 year old and weigh 20 pounds. Children above the age of 1 and weighing 20 to 40 pounds require a forward-facing car seat. Children 40 pounds and up must ride in a booster seat or harness seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. At that point they must use a seatbelt.
Once an individual is 16 or older, the state of Vermont enforces a secondary seat belt law.
“A policeman cannot cite you for violating that law unless he first cites you for violating a primary offense, such as speeding,” Williams said. “If you’re speeding and a cop pulls you over and you’re not wearing your seat belt, he can’t write you a ticket unless you’re first cited for the primary offense. That leads a lot of people to believe that they don’t need to wear their seat belt.”
Still, Williams encourages all motor vehicle operators and passengers to buckle up.
“Put your seat belt on,” Williams said. “It’s the number one priority if you want to be safer in a car.”
Maintenance and precautions
In addition to buckling up, there are several other steps to take to ensure safety on the road.
For one, following the proper maintenance and upkeep of a car is crucial. The most important thing, Williams said, is making sure tires are properly inflated according to the recommendations from the tire manufacturer.
“You should inflate (your tires) in accordance with what it says on the tire, not necessarily with what it says on the car,” he said. “It’s more reliable.”
Williams also said AAA recommends all vehicles carry a breakdown kit for those unexpected breakdowns, so a flashlight, blanket or pair of jumper cables is at the ready.
But still, Williams emphasized the importance of getting in the habit of using a proper safety belt system.
“The number one step for auto safety is wear your seat belt,” he reiterated.