Char-Koosta News

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SOARS Seat belt survey reveals the need to buckle up on the Flathead Reservation

By Adriana Fehrs

Amelia Adams, CSKT Tribal Health Safety On All Roads (SOAR) Coordinator, surveys passing vehicles to determine the percentage rate of seat belt use. The Montana Department of Transportation initiated the SOAR program to reduce highway fatalities through education and community outreach on Montana Reservations. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Amelia Adams, CSKT Tribal Health Safety On All Roads (SOAR) Coordinator, surveys passing vehicles to determine the percentage rate of seat belt use. The Montana Department of Transportation initiated the SOAR program to reduce highway fatalities through education and community outreach on Montana Reservations. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

RONAN — The CSKT Tribal Health Safety on All Roads (SOAR) Program, funded through the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), conducted a seat belt survey on Tuesday April 8. Their final conclusion from the survey: ‘PLEASE BUCKLE UP’.

At the intersection of Highway 93 and Round Butte Road West, Amelia Adams, SOAR Coordinator, conducted a visual survey of 100 vehicles traveling north and 100 vehicles traveling south on U.S. Highway 93. Of the vehicles traveling north, 74 percent used seat belts, and of the vehicles traveling south, 63 percent used seat belts. A total of 68 percent usage rate was determined from the data.

MDT initiated the SOAR program to reduce highway fatalities through education and community outreach on Montana Reservations. The program focuses on impaired driving prevention and occupant protection. MDT writes, “Motor vehicle crashes have a significant impact in Montana’s Indian country – American Indians comprise 6.2 percent of the population in Montana, but represent about 17 percent of the motor vehicle crash deaths in the state, on average, and about 25 percent of the alcohol-related fatalities. The major fatalities were unbuckled.” MDT statistics show that 76 percent of Native American occupant fatalities were not wearing seat belts.

Montana ranks relatively high for overall seat belt usage for states that have secondary law enforcement – where noncompliance safety belt violators must be stopped for another violation before they can be charged – about 79 percent, but the survey conducted on April 8 showed that locals lagged eleven percent behind the state average for seat belt usage.

The MDT wants to reduce the five-year average number of Native American fatalities from 36 in 2010 to 32 by 2015, unrestrained vehicle occupants fatalities from 126 in 2010 to 98 by 2015, and the number of fatalities in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver from 90 in 2010 to 70 by 2015.

The MDT states that motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of 16 to 20 year olds, and the chances of being killed are 25 times greater if thrown from a vehicle. Seat belts, in conjunction with air bags, can reduce the chance of fatalities by 45 to 55 percent.

SOAR reminds people to “buckle up!” Montana Law states, “A driver may not operate a motor vehicle unless each occupant of a designated seating position is wear a properly adjusted and fastened seat belt. If you are stopped by law enforcement, and not wearing a seat belt, you will be fined.”

Fred Steele, CSKT Environmental Health & Safety Officer, who works with the SOAR Program on highway safety activities, states, “We gathered this data so we can further help educate the local communities on the importance of seat belt use. Highway 93 was at one time one of the most dangerous highways in the nation. With the summer fast coming to the Mission Valley, we want people to be safe. Remind your family members to please buckle up!”

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