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MDOT Demonstrates Effectiveness of Seatbelt Use in Simulated Crashes

| July 31, 2022, 04:31 PM

Near an isolated stretch of pavement in Baltimore County, a car crashed into a concrete barrier at 35 mph. The vehicle suffered significant damage, and the four occupants inside – none of them using seat belts– were thrown about with tremendous force, turning them into projectiles colliding with one another.

The crash could have been deadly – except the occupants were mannequins.

Eye On Annapolis was invited to the simulation, staged by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Baltimore County Police Department and held at Martin State Airport, was designed to offer a sobering reminder that, even at low highway speeds, crashes can result in severe injuries or fatalities for unbuckled travelers.

“As displayed today, injuries that occur from crashes like these are avoidable with the simple task of buckling up,” said Chrissy Nizer, MDOT Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) Administrator and Governor Larry Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative.

“Failure to correctly wear a seat belt remains one of the leading contributing factors of roadway fatalities in Maryland, along with impaired and distracted driving and speeding,” Administrator Nizer added. “Today, we challenged Marylanders to change their thinking that crashes are unavoidable – and to start making safer choices behind the wheel.”

Nizer was joined by MDOT Secretary James F. Ports, Jr., Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Police Chief Col. Kevin M. Anderson, and Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, Physician-in-Chief at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Each stressed that most vehicle crashes are avoidable – and should not be referred to as “accidents.” They said making simple choices behind the wheel can save lives.

“Data shows that most crash-related deaths happen within 25 miles from a person’s home and at speeds of less than 40 miles per hour,” Secretary Ports said. “It’s simple physics: Even at low speeds, people in a crash continue forward, often resulting in injury or even death for themselves and others. Seat belts save lives, and we need every vehicle occupant to buckle up – every seat, every ride.”

According to the annual Roadside Observational Survey completed in June 2021, Maryland’s statewide seat belt usage rate is 91.4%, meaning nearly one in 10 front-seat passengers are not buckling up.

The demonstration included two simulated crashes, varying which occupants were buckled and unbuckled. In the first, most passengers (mannequins) were buckled, including a toddler-size mannequin in a rear-facing car seat, properly restrained. The only unrestrained passenger was behind the driver. The demonstration showed that even a single unrestrained passenger could become a projectile in a crash leading to serious injury or death for others in the vehicle. In the second simulated crash, all occupants, including a child mannequin, were unrestrained – and all became projectiles.

Airbags were removed from demonstration vehicles for the safety of event bystanders. Officials noted that airbags alone don’t save occupants and are meant to be utilized with seat belts. In the event of a crash, unbuckled occupants can continue on forward, right past airbags.

Dr. Scalea provided first-hand knowledge of the most common injuries seen at Shock Trauma from car crashes, as well as an analysis of suspected injuries the occupants would have likely endured during the simulated crash. In the first crash, all occupants remained in their general seating positions post-crash because of the seat belts, except for the unrestrained mannequin behind the driver. The unrestrained mannequin’s head and chest were propelled into the back of the driver’s seat while its legs became twisted under the seat. The unrestrained mannequin also caused significant injuries to the driver mannequin’s midsection. All the unbuckled mannequins were thrown from their seats in the second crash. The front seat occupants would have likely suffered injuries to their head, abdomen, arms, and legs. The unrestrained child mannequin was thrown forward and then rebounded back into the seat before colliding with the other unrestrained backseat passenger. The unrestrained child would have likely suffered spine, back, and abdominal injuries.

Officials also highlighted a new Maryland law that requires children to remain in a rear-facing child safety seat until at least age 2 unless the child reaches the manufacturer’s height and weight limit for the car seat. The measure, Senate Bill 176, was signed into law by Governor Hogan and goes into effect on October 1. The first offense for violating the new law is a warning. Existing Maryland law also notes that if passengers older than 16 are not wearing a seat belt, the driver may receive an $83 ticket for each offense.

MDTA Police Chief Col. Anderson said that during traffic stops, his officers have encountered children not properly restrained – ranging from no car seat in use to children placed in car seats but not harnessed. He urged everyone transporting children to ensure they are using the right car seat for the age and weight of each child – and make sure it’s installed correctly.

“Children are some of the most vulnerable road users, and are usually at the mercy of being properly buckled by their caregivers,” said Col. Anderson. “The new law is not about giving citations. It’s a way to help guide parents on better practices to keep a child safe in a vehicle. We want caregivers to know there are resources for them to ensure their car seat is installed correctly and they are using the right seat for their child.”

Agencies across the state, including the Maryland Kids in Safety Seats (KISS) program, offer in-person and virtual checks to teach parents and caregivers how to correctly use car seats. Caregivers can visit ZeroDeathsMD.gov/road-safety/child-passenger-safety for more information. Additional components of Maryland’s child passenger safety law require children younger than eight to be in an appropriate booster or child safety seat unless they are at least 4′ 9″ inches tall. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend children ride rear-facing for as long as possible, as it offers the best protection in the event of a crash.

Officials also warn of the dangers of extreme heat.

In addition to the crash demonstrations, The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems brought an outdoor temperature display to demonstrate how quickly a vehicle can heat up in the sun to a temperature that would quickly kill a child or pet if left unattended.

Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches 104 degrees and becomes fatal for children if their core temperature reaches 107 degrees. During Tuesday’s demonstration, the vehicle reached 104 degrees, despite the outside temperature only being 78 degrees. This demonstration reiterated the fact that it doesn’t have to be an extremely hot day for vehicles to reach dangerous temperatures.

Learn more about the MDOT MVA’s Highway Safety Office’s commitment to zero deaths on Maryland roadways at ZeroDeathsMD.gov and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at zerodeathsmd.

Arts Alive | Maryland Hall

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