Buckle Up In Utah

BY LAWRENCE HOPPER, UTAH HIGHWAY PATROL ASSOCIATION, PRESIDENT

On May 12, 2015 history was made in the state of Utah. That was the day that the seat belt law, which for years was a secondary offense (an officer needed a primary violation to pull a driver over, to enforce the seat belt law), became a primary offense. This change in the law was years in the making and took place after years of hard work from countless people.

The law is written in such a way that it gives law enforcement officers (LEO) the opportunity to educate the public for a first seat belt violation. Motorists and passengers in a vehicle, who are not wearing seat belts, will receive a warning for the firrs offense. When this occurs, his/her name is entered into a data base. If he/she is pulled over in the future, as an officer  runs his/her driver’s license information, it will alert the officer that he/she has been warned before. From here, the officer can either give the motorist a warning or a citation.

It is a well-known fact that seat belts save lives. As a trooper, I have heard all sorts of excuses for not wearing it. I have heard that they “always” wear it, and this one time they don’t, I just happened to stop them. Some have said that they don’t want to get trapped in the car if they crash and the car catches fire, or if they drive into a lake and start sinking. I might see their point of view, if we lived in, say, Minnesota, not a desert like Utah. Then there are those who flat out say they will not wear it, and the government can’t make them, that it is their personal choice, that it only affects them. This personal choice doesn’t remain all that personal when first responders arrive on the scene of a fatal crash, where the individual who died was ejected, because they were not wearing their seat belt. It does not remain personal when troopers knock on the door of the parents, or spouse with young kids, to tell them their loved ones are not coming home. When seeing the grief from those left behind, it becomes clear that this is not a personal choice.

Last year I had the opportunity to meet a family who made the “personal” choice to wear their seat belts. Their story is a great example of how the simple act of buckling up can say lives. The DeFriez family, from Perry, Utah, were involved in a rollover crash on I-15, near the Fillmore/Beaver county line. The following is the story of what happened, as told by Laura, the wife and mother.

“On Wednesday, November 27, 2013, our family began the drive southbound on I-15 ‘over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house’ for a Thanksgiving holiday gathering. Myself, Quinn (my husband), and four of our kids were making the trip, traveling in our 1998 Dodge minivan.

The trip had been uneventful with the exception of heavy traffic. Our 19 year old daughter, Kailie, started her driving shift near Cabela’s in Lehi. Jacob, age 17, was in the front passenger seat. Kaden, age 15, sat in a captain’s chair behind Kailie. Quinn was in the other captain’s chair. Treven, age 8, was sitting in the middle of the rear bench seat which he shared with me. Everyone was wearing their seatbelts. Sometime after Fillmore, Kailie wanted to trade off driving. Most of the family had been dozing the last hour or two so she asked for Quinn or me to wake up and be ready to drive from Beaver on. The sun was setting and she was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with the turns of the mountain passes between Fillmore and Beaver. Around this time, one of her brothers asked if we could take the next exit for a break. She could see a freeway exit not far ahead and she signaled to move into the right-hand lane. There was a car that had moved up and was beginning to pass on the right, in Kailie’s blind spot. Quinn told her to watch out for it. She checked her mirrors and over her shoulder but couldn’t see anything so she continued to change lanes. Quinn shouted that the car was still there. Kailie checked over her shoulder again and was able to see the car. Startled by the fact that we were about to collide, she ended up overcorrecting, which caused the van to swerve back and forth in the left-hand lane. This continued for 30 to 60 seconds until the driver’s side front tire caught the rumble strip, pulling the van off the road and into the median. The van hit a concrete drainage culvert and the rear end flipped up and over. The van began to roll and continued to roll out of the median and across both lanes of northbound traffic. The van ended its violent trip on its tires, facing northbound, on the eastern shoulder of the road.

Kailie suffered a skull fracture which extended from ear to ear across the top of her head and a fractured vertebra. Her left arm was severely scraped and cut from broken window glass and the contact with the asphalt as the van rolled. She broke her hand and had to have it pinned. She lost consciousness and has no memory of the crash from the time that she began to lose control of the van. Jacob and Kaden have no memory of what happened from the same point until the van stopped and the dust began to settle. Jacob had lost his right shoe and severely sprained his right ankle. His index and middle finger were broken. He had glass in his right elbow and cuts in his knee. Kaden sustained a concussion and had multiple deep cuts on his face and a severe cut on his right arm. Quinn had bruised ribs, torn cartilage, severe whiplash, an injured tailbone, and cuts which required stitches. I had six broken ribs, a sprained right ankle, and cuts requiring stitches on my right ankle and right knee. Treven had a few cuts on his head, had bit his tongue, and was bruised from the seatbelt. He and Quinn were treated and released from the hospital that evening. Myself, Jacob and Kaden spent the night in the hospital and were released the next day. Kailie was f lown by life f light to the IMC Trauma Center in Murray.

The van was a total loss. All of the windows were completely broken out. The frame was twisted and bent. The sliding doors were torn from their tracks and had to be cut to get Kaden and Quinn out. The top of the van was cut off to extricate Kailie and Jacob. Treven and I were taken out from the back of the van. All of our luggage and Thanksgiving dinner contributions were strewn all over the freeway and the sides of the road.

We are extremely grateful for seatbelts and airbags. If we had not been seat belted in, we would have become projectiles and more than likely been thrown from the van, like all of our belongings. We have since recovered and are going about our lives. Kailie is finishing an 18 month mission for her church. Jacob just graduated from high school where he enjoyed participating in instrumental music classes and programs. Kaden has returned to sports and school activities. Treven loves retelling the story of his family’s “big adventure”. Quinn and I took the longest to heal (most likely on account of age) but are now able to go about work and life relatively pain-free. We are grateful to the other travelers, UHP troopers, and emergency crews who came to our aid. The entire family encourages everyone to obey the law and Buckle Up.”

What a great success story for seat belt use. I am convinced that without the use of seat belts, there would have been a death in that crash, possibly multiple deaths. It is a great reminder to all of us to buckle up, if not for ourselves, then for our loved ones.