Latest RCMP safe-driving initiative concentrates on usage of seatbelts for all occupants

  • Mar. 17, 2009 6:00 a.m.

Staff

In an effort to ensure Alberta’s roads and highways are as safe as possible, RCMP Detachments throughout the province – including Rimbey’s, have targeted various aspects of maintaining safe driving habits each month and in March, the campaign will be directed at the usage of seatbelts as part of the Alberta Occupant Restraint Program.

“Every month we’re doing something different and in March it’s occupant restrains,” said Cst. Bill Coulthard of the Rimbey Detachment. “The guys have been out writing seatbelt tickets this month and have written 16 since March 1. They’re sitting in the usual places – intersections, hiding behind billboards and other things that we do to catch people that aren’t using their seatbelts, but people still aren’t buckling up”

And while the month is still barely halfway through, those numbers are sure to rise. In 2008 during two campaigns targeting seatbelt usage each one week in length, RCMP province-wide issued 20,095 tickets related to seatbelt usage of which 264 involved children who were not properly secured.

“Some people just don’t wear them. They don’t believe in them, they don’t wear them and even on the highway – they don’t wear them in town, they don’t wear them on the highway and with the road conditions and stuff – all you have to do is drive from here to Red Deer when the roads are bad and the ditches are littered with cars,” Coulthard said. “The seatbelt keeps you in the seat. If you’re doing donuts down the highway and flailing all over the place, how do you keep control of your vehicle, to start with?”

As a long-time RCMP officer, Coulthard said he’s come across many accident and collision sites where an occupant has been thrown out of a vehicle – most likely because they were not properly restrained n their seat, and said the consequences could be very grave.

“They’re ejected through the windshield, through sunroofs, through back windows, through side windows – and we get there, and the vehicle is laying on top of them. Generally, what happens is if you get ejected, you fly forward and if the vehicle is rolling in the ditch, you are propelled forward – not backwards, and you end up in the ditch and the vehicle rolls over you,” he said. “Another point is if they get ejected, they end up with massive head injuries from what they strike while in the air – things like telephone poles, guard rails, concrete abutments, trees, mail boxes or concrete curbs from sliding down the road surface.”

Coulthard said he just recently became aware of a woman who was killed south of Sylvan Lake following an accident that propelled her out of the vehicle. While he said he could not confirm whether she was wearing her seatbelt or not, he has seen many cases where vehicle occupants have not been restrained in their seats and referred to them as, “uncontrolled projectiles”.

In fact in some cases, Coulthard said he’s been at scenes looking for victims and have discouvered that after being ejected from the vehicle, their bodies were found hundreds of feet from the actually scene.

“Lot’s of times, the victims are ejected through the side and rear windows because they break easier than a windshield,” he said. “Unless you are totally unrestrained in a vehicle and hit something solid head on, then you’ll go through the windshield. But in a lot of cases, I’ve seen people who have gone through the sunroof, side windows and even side doors.”

Coulthard said the manufacturers design and built vehicles specifically with the intent of protecting the occupants inside and are made to buckle and absorb energy to keep those inside the compartment as safe as possible – that, of course, under the assumption that they are buckled-up.

But despite the constant barrage of advertisements, and on top of all the coverage of gruesome collision scenes on television and in newspapers, Coulthard said some just don’t seem to be getting the message. And while he was quick to add that in some cases, drivers are unwilling to listen, he said things become much more tragic when children are involved.

“A classic example is in minor collisions where the child is not in a restraining seat or buckled in, and again, the child becomes a projectile. They wind up flying out open windows, closed windows, through windshields, through back windows in vehicles. Drive in Edmonton, drive in Red Deer, drive in Rimbey and look around at the amount of children who are bouncing up and down on the front seat, and when we give them a ticket, they complain,” he said. “I’ve been to several accidents in my career where children have not been properly buckled in, they get involved in a collision, and the child is killed. How do you live with that the rest of your life knowing that the child was not buckled in?”

In an effort to drive the point home, Coulthard recalled another incident that, again, occurred recently involving a woman with two young children in the back seat who was unfortunate enough to be struck from behind by another, much larger vehicle.

While at the scene, he was approached by the husband of the woman and father of the children who, within seconds, experienced a profound epiphany.

“He said to me, ‘Bill, you know, I always think it’s such a pain having to buckle these kids in every day, but now I will never, ever say a bad word about having to buckle them in again and how much of a pain it is’. Because they were buckled in, and they did survive this motor vehicle collision.”

To the best of his knowledge, Coulthard said he didn’t believe Alberta has legislation regarding booster seats designed for children, however he was quick to add it shouldn’t matter and offered a few suggestions.

First and foremost, he said it is highly advisable to never purchase a used child’s restraining seat but instead, to purchase a brand new one. Further, if one is purchased second-hand, ensure that it is no more than a few years old and has never been involved in a previous collision. He also added a reminder to parents and guardians to seasonally adjust the straps on a child’s seat to compensate for snowsuits in the winter and light clothing in the summer for example, and that the straps need to be adjusted accordingly, as well as the growth of the child.

Most importantly however, Coulthard said the seats must include a tether strap.

“The biggest thing with a child restraint system is that they have to have a tether strap, and that’s a requirement,” he said. “Again, if you don’t have a tether strap, it’s a $115 fine; if the child is not properly buckled in; it’s another $115 fine; if the child is not properly adjusted in the seat with the straps, it’s another $115 fine, and you can be charged with each and every one of those counts if the child is not properly restrained.”

Without a tether strap, he said the child’s seat would have a tendency to roll over the lap seatbelt and use it as an axle. At the same time, the child is propelled forward headfirst and could strike the back of the front seat or any other objects in the vehicle.

Coulthard also offered some sage advice when trying to clean seats designed for children.

“Baby seats are awfully hard to clean. You’ve got to be careful as to what kind of fluid and cleanser you’re using because if you use bleach or other harsh chemicals, the straps start to deteriorate,” he said. “Soap and water is the best thing to use.”