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Fatalities in car accidents rise due to not using seat belts

Two of every three who died in area weren’t strapped in during crash

Fatal vehicle accidents are at an uptick in the area, with state police in Hollidaysburg reporting a 20% increase in fatalities over the past three years.

While there are many different causes for accidents, law enforcement officials have begun to pinpoint the most common reasons.

“It’s definitely very concerning,” Trooper Christoper Fox said of the surge in fatal car accidents. “Many of these fatalities were very avoidable, too.”

According to PennDOT, the state had its third-lowest number of traffic fatalities on record in 2018 as 1,190 people died in a vehicle accident.

But with a recent surge of traffic-related deaths locally, officials fear messages about staying safe on the road have been forgotten or ignored.

Of the 36 fatal car accidents that were investigated by State Police Troop G in Hollidaysburg, 24 people involved in those accidents were not wearing a seat belt, state police reported Thursday in a press release.

According to PennDOT, 50% of all people who died in crashes were not wearing seat belts.

Fox described seat belts as life-saving devices, explaining that they absorb some of the impact that an individual would otherwise face in an accident.

Many of the recent fatal accidents have been low-speed collisions, Fox said.

Due to drivers and passengers not wearing seat belts, however, occupants of the vehicle are being ejected from the vehicle or are absorbing too much of the impact.

These occupants eventually suffer blunt force trauma, which is the most common cause of death for vehicle accidents.

Many of these accidents would have been much-less severe had the individuals been wearing a seat belt, Fox said.

“People need to wear their seat belts,” Fox said. “It only takes two seconds to put a seat belt on, and it can save your life in the process.

While a simple choice like not wearing a seat belt has been attributed to many traffic fatalities, impaired driving has led to several deaths.

Although impaired driving numbers are on a downward trend, officials said they have continued to spread the message about the dangers of drinking and driving.

“The vast majority of people know that you can’t drink and drive,” said Craig Amos, who is the regional DUI program administrator for the Pennsylvania DUI Association. “It’s a crime, and people know that.”

Statistics from PennDOT state that 26% of all traffic fatalities last year were alcohol-related. The number of alcohol-related crashes decreased to 7,700 from 9,380 in 2019.

“We have continued to enforce the DUI laws in Pennsylvania,” said Sgt. Richard Oldham of the Hollidaysburg Police Department. “Drinking and driving affects more than just you. I’ve seen the effects that it has on innocent families, and I’ve seen the injuries and fatalities that have happened because of it.”

Law enforcement officials are now shifting much of their focus to impaired driving, not just drunken driving.

While illegal drugs remain an issue, Amos said that prescription drugs have created a major issue on the road.

Amos said that although many painkillers, cannabis or other prescribed drugs may be legal to use at home, they can impair someone’s ability when they get behind the wheel.

“When people hear of impaired driving, they think of someone that’s drunk,” Amos said. “It’s much more than that.”

A person using these substances cannot get behind the wheel until they are acclimated to them, and Amos said that can only be determined by a medical professional.

Amos said anyone who receives a new prescription medication should speak with their physician or pharmacist, and until they know how that medication is going to make them feel, they should refrain from driving.

“If it impairs you, you cannot get behind the wheel,” Amos said. “The results are the same as someone who is drinking.”

Distracted driving has also been a major concern, officials said.

While it may seem harmless, Fox said individuals who are texting and driving present a considerable danger when on the road.

Vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers are becoming more common, Fox said,

Just like when it comes to wearing a seat belt, Fox said collisions and fatalities due to texting are completely avoidable.

“Put the phone down and wait until you get home,” Fox said. “That text message isn’t nearly as important as your life is.”

According to Pennsylvania crash statistics in 2020, one in every 57 people were involved in a reportable car accident.

Anyone could be involved in a collision at any time, and officials said they plan to continue their message about staying safe on the road.

“We have to continue to educate people about these dangers so they can apply them on the roadway,” Fox said. “We need people to stay safe when they are on the road.”

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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