Highway safety officials say seat belts are catching on in Mississippi. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how advocates say enforcement of seat belt laws saves hundreds of lives each year.

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Mississippi Seat Belt Usage on the Rise, Fatalities Down

By Daniel Cherry | Published 15 Feb 2012 08:14pm | comments

Highway safety officials say seat belts are catching on in Mississippi. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how advocates say enforcement of seat belt laws saves hundreds of lives each year.

The year before Mississippi's seat belt requirement law went into effect there were more than 900 traffic fatalities. Now the number of highway deaths is down nearly 300 people per year. Safety officials say the decline in fatalities is due to an increase in seat belt usage. Michael Kelly with the Covington County Sheriff's Department says he wishes all Mississippians would buckle up every time.

"We see senseless fatalities on our roadways. When we arrive to the scene of an accident and we have a person who's ejected, especially a child, that affects us a lot as the law enforcement community, knowing that the accident may not have been prevented, but the fatality could have been prevented if that person had just had a seatbelt on."

Traffic safety officials say 83 percent of Mississippians buckle in regularly...up 7 percent since 2006. Albert Santa Cruz is the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. He says the people who don't strap in have a much greater chance of dying in a crash.

"Probably 90% of the people who have a rollover and are not belted get ejected. That's one of the biggest things in car crashes now is either going through the windshield or the door coming open or the windshield coming out and being ejected."

Santa Cruz says there's very little chance of walking away from an ejection. Statistically, Mississippi has some of the most dangerous roads in the nation. Twyla Jennings is the Occupant Protection Coordinator in the state.

"We have a lot of rural roads and the lighting is bad. A lot of our rural roads are not in the best condition. But if you do have a car crash, we just want you to understand that if you're buckled up, you're just that more likely to be able to walk away."

In 2010 about 640 people died on Mississippi's roads. More than half of those weren't wearing a seatbelt.

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