By Todd Shepard
We are continually reminded about things that are dangerous to ourselves, our pets, our environment or some other aspect of our lives. It is my turn as your police chief to remind the Williston community about the need to buckle up. I made a promise the other day at a Governor’s Highway Safety Luncheon honoring our highway heroes that I would convince at least one person that doesn’t regularly wear his or her seatbelt to start wearing it. Well, I don’t know of too many who don’t regularly wear it so I figured I would do my part by circulating the message about the importance of wearing your seatbelt and to challenge everyone that reads this message to talk to your friends, neighbors, colleagues or family about wearing their seatbelts.
It is reported that Vermont has an estimated 85 percent usage rate for seatbelts. That is fantastic in light of the fact that Vermont has a seatbelt law on the books that can only be enforced if a vehicle is stopped for another violation. The problem noted was that for the past 10 or more years, our usage rate has never increased, whereas other states with similar secondary enforcement laws have been making steady progress toward increasing their seatbelt usage rates.
A special point was made by an EMT of more than 30 years. He has never had to unbuckle a deceased occupant from a vehicular crash. The presentation was powerful, even to a person who has been involved in public safety for nearly 30 years, like me. Crashes will happen, but do everything that you can to protect yourself from serious injury or death. Do not rely solely on the airbags, they are an added protection and work in conjunction with the seatbelts. Do not make excuses that the seatbelt is uncomfortable, because if you get in a crash you may very well be more uncomfortable if seriously injured.
Last year, Vermont had 77 highway fatalities, the highest since 2006. If all of these fatalities were vehicles occupants and were wearing seatbelts, we could have saved 77. Thus far in 2013 (as of April 19), there have been a total of 13 highway fatalities.
As the leader of the Williston Police Department, it is incumbent upon me to encourage my community to always wear seatbelts while in a moving vehicle and ensure that your children are properly restrained according to current Vermont law. I hope you take my challenge to speak to those around you to keep the message going about the importance of wearing seatbelts.
It is my hope that we will never come across a Williston community member not wearing his or her seatbelt while motoring along the Williston roads. Knowing the Williston community as I have come to know it in the past nine months, you will all pass my message along and will not rely on the enforcement piece as the reason to wear your seatbelt, but rely on the reality that wearing your seatbelt is the right thing to do to protect yourself, your family or other occupants of your car.
Remember: drive safely, drive the speed limit and buckle up. It is better to arrive alive than it is to arrive on time.
Todd Shepard is Williston’s police chief.