Monday, October 03, 2022
76.0°F

‘Seatbelt Convincer’ comes to Soap Lake

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | April 19, 2022 1:20 AM

SOAP LAKE — When it comes to traffic collisions, certain rules of physics apply.

“We all know here (that) in a traffic crash, the more you move, the more you will be injured,” said Alison Mitchell, Region 15 manager for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s Target Zero program.

Keeping drivers and passengers in one place is the job of a seatbelt. Not all drivers or passengers wear seatbelts, however, and those are people for whom the “Seatbelt Convincer” was designed. Mitchell demonstrated the new tool Monday morning outside the Soap Lake Police Department.

The device is the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, she said.

The Seatbelt Convincer allows people to experience the sensation of a collision at about five to 10 miles per hour. It was purchased with the help of a $30,000 grant from State Farm Insurance.

Mitchell said Soap Lake Police Chief Ryan Cox told her about the Seatbelt Convincer, which he saw on social media. Its seat rolls down a slope before coming to an abrupt stop, just like it would if a driver ran into an object.

“Washington state actually has a really great seat belt use rate,” Mitchell said.

About 94% of Washington drivers and passengers used seatbelts in 2021, she said, although she’s a little skeptical of that statistic.

“I think that probably a lot of us here when we’re driving, see a lot of people not wearing their seatbelts,” she said. “Hopefully this will help convince more people (to buckle up).”

Mitchell said injuries and fatalities associated with not wearing a seatbelt, called “unrestrained vehicle occupants,” have increased.

“The number of unrestrained fatalities and serious injuries has increased (statewide) to the highest number since 2010,” Mitchell said. “Since 2019, unrestrained fatalities have increased over 30% and serious injuries have increased 38%. So seatbelt use is definitely one of the highest factors in serious injury and fatal crashes.

“In Grant County unrestrained vehicle occupants is the number-two factor in crashes,” she said.

Mitchell said she started researching after Cox brought the device to her attention, and told him it was probably too much for Target Zero’s budget.

“I put in a grant request to State Farm, for their community grant (program), and to my very happy surprise it was approved,” she said. “Thirty thousand was such a huge ask.”

Mitchell said she plans to emphasize its use for youths 13 years of age and older, along with adults.

Cory Pickeral, State Farm agent in Ephrata, said that was one reason the company liked the proposal.

It’s important to teach teens and young adults good driving habits, he said. In other states, hands-on demonstrations like the Seatbelt Convincer have been shown to help teach good habits in a controlled environment, he said.

Washington State Patrol trooper John Bryant has seen plenty of accidents, of course, but he also has personal experience with accident physics, courtesy of an encounter with a deer near Vantage.

The collision was severe enough to deploy the airbag, Bryant said.

“It’s like somebody hit you in the face,” he said. “Like a body blow.”

He rode the Seatbelt Convincer and said it gave a pretty good approximation of a low-speed collision. Among other things, each rider’s neck snapped forward as they hit the barrier.

“The task force was able to purchase it for use throughout Grant, Adams, Lincoln and Ferry counties, not only for our local law enforcement, but for State Farm agencies as well, at community events. We can take it to schools, different businesses and organizations to encourage those people who aren’t using their seatbelts to do so,” Mitchell said.

Cheryl Schweizer may be reached at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

photo

CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Washington State Patrol trooper John Bryant rides the Seatbelt Convincer, purchased with the help of a grant from State Farm Insurance and demonstrated in Soap Lake Monday.

photo

CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Allison Mitchell, Target Zero manager, shows off the new Seatbelt Convincer in its first outing Monday in Soap Lake.

Recent Headlines