By James W. Dundas, Jr., Chair of the IPSA Memorial Committee
While monitoring public safety line of duty deaths in 2017, an alarming trend began to emerge regarding the number of vehicle accidents suffered by our first responders. As of today, and according to the U.S. Fire Administration and Officer Down Memorial Page, approximately 98 firefighters and law enforcement officers have lost their lives in 2017, and a large percentage of these fatalities were due to vehicle accidents.
Currently, wearing a seatbelt is not only standard practice, it is law in 49 of the 50 states. Only New Hampshire does not have a statute requiring adult passengers to wear seatbelts.
Some first responders do not buckle up
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, previously conducted research about why public safety personnel sometimes do not buckle-up.
For firefighters, the research claims they are unable to buckle-up in a fast-moving fire truck or don their protective clothing while strapped into a seat. Similarly, additional research revealed that some law enforcement officers perceive that seat restraints interfere with their weapon or another belt mounted tool. Further, the avoidance of seatbelts may also be attributed to the risk-taking culture of public safety personnel.
Seatbelt restraints explained
Seatbelts are a proven and reliable defense. Sudden road hazards or drivers that are aggressive, distracted or impaired always seem to appear out of nowhere. Because of this unknown, vehicle occupants cannot possible anticipate when they are in danger. Unfortunate events on the highways occur suddenly and usually without warning.
Seatbelt restraints protect vehicle occupants in several ways. Buckling up protects the driver and front seat passenger from striking the windshield, steering wheel or even a vehicle mounted mobile computer. Seatbelts also prevent back seat passengers from colliding with window glass or each other.
Further, seatbelts enhance the effectiveness of air bags. Seatbelts and airbags provide a combination defense increasing the safety of occupants and the survivability of a crash. Seatbelt use enhances the deployment effectiveness of airbags. But perhaps the greatest benefit of seatbelts is that they protect occupants from ejection. Once an occupant is ejected from a vehicle, the chances of serious injury or fatality substantially increase.
All LODDs are tragedies, and all non-restrained injuries in a vehicle accident are tragedies that could possibly be prevented.
Remember to buckle up - on duty and off duty. Your family, friends and colleagues are depending on you to be there for the next shift.