PARKER, Colo. (KDVR) — It takes less than a second to buckle your seatbelt, and it could save your life.
Yet statistics show Coloradans still don’t buckle up as often as the average American.
A 2020 visual survey by the Colorado Department of Transportation revealed that only 87% of Coloradans were wearing a seatbelt, well below the national average of 91.6%.
It’s a troubling statistic for parents like Christy Schultz, who lost her daughter Sammie following a crash in 2020.
“I started walking over, and to be honest, the accident didn’t look that bad, I could see both cars, neither was upside down,” Schultz said. “It was something you wouldn’t think was a major accident, and then I saw my daughter’s shoe in the middle of the road, and that’s when I realized this is way more serious than I think.”
Sammie was not wearing a seatbelt and would die at Children’s Hospital six days later, one day after her 15th birthday.
Schultz said Sammie always wore a seatbelt in her car and still isn’t sure why she didn’t have one on that day.
“There’s not a lot of words to describe it, it’s the most excruciating thing,” she said. “You kind of want to curl up and disappear.”
Schultz now visits schools through a non-profit called Sammie’s Sunshine and hopes Sammie’s story can convince others to buckle up.
Colorado counties lagging behind
In 2022, every single traffic fatality in 13 Colorado counties involved someone who was unrestrained, according to CDOT.
Certain counties like Denver, Arapahoe, Boulder, and Douglas are exceeding the national average, while others lag behind.
A 2022 visual survey from CDOT revealed only 67.6% of drivers in Pueblo County were buckled up.
Along the Front Range, that survey showed only 80.8% of drivers in Jefferson County, and 80.1% in Weld County were wearing a seatbelt.
“It shows that it is an issue, and it is a problem,” State Trooper Gabriel Moltrer said.
Colorado State Patrol has been cracking down on the issue, with nearly 3,000 tickets issued during April and May “Click It or Ticket” enforcement periods.
Not wearing a seatbelt remains a secondary violation in Colorado, meaning law enforcement must have another reason to pull a driver over first.
“I have had instances where I saw someone clearly not wearing their safety belt, and there was nothing to stop them for, so they just kept on their way,” Moltrer said. “It is frustrating, because you want them to be safer. You want them to have that seatbelt on because you don’t know what’s going on down the road.”
State is improving
Colorado’s seatbelt use rate has increased nearly every year since 2013 when only 82.1% of drivers were wearing a seatbelt during the annual survey.
Schultz hopes to see that number continue to climb and says Sammie’s story has already convinced others to buckle up.
“I’ve had several kids tell me I was in an accident and because of Sammie’s story all my friends had their seatbelts on, and they buckled up,” Schultz said. “Her story is living on, and we’re helping to save other kids and families from going through such heartache.”
Sammie would have turned 18 this year and would have graduated high school this spring.
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