By LaVarr Webb
Carlos Braceras is Utah’s chief road builder. He also handles a host of other transportation-related tasks as director of the Utah Department of Transportation. But Braceras has a big passion beyond road-building. He also wants to keep people alive and uninjured as they drive on Utah’s roads and highways.
Automobile-related crashes are one of Utah’s biggest causes of premature death. Crash injuries wreak further havoc on individuals and families. So while Braceras, an engineer by training, loves big construction projects and is proud of UDOT’s record of highway-building and maintenance, he has taken on a personal crusade to prevent highway deaths and injuries.
“Even one death on the highway is one too many,” says Braceras, who was appointed UDOT director in May, 2013, by Gov. Gary Herbert. “Knowing the anguish, heartache and financial hardships caused by traffic injuries and deaths, I’m not willing to tolerate even one death. A death is not just a statistic. It’s a real person with family and loved ones. I’m not willing to accept that anyone needs to die in an automobile accident.”
Braceras fully understands that to completely eliminate automobile injuries and deaths will be difficult,. But he notes one simple thing could be done by every driver and passenger that would make an immediate real difference.
Buckling up is simple, easy, doesn’t cost a dime, takes little time — and saves lives and prevents serious injuries.
“In 2012, 217 people died on Utah roads,” Braceras said. “The most common contributing factor was a failure to buckle up. The best thing people can do to stay safe even in a crash to always wear a seat belt.”
The 217 deaths aren’t just a statistic to Braceras. He knows they represent fathers, mothers, children, and friends who leave a big hole in a family, creating sorrow, heartbreak and financial difficulties. The overall cost to society of one fatality is estimated to average $1.1 million.
Because seat belt use has been proven to reduce injuries and deaths on the road, Braceras is a strong proponent of a proposed Primary Seatbelt Law, which may be discussed in the upcoming legislative session. Motorists and passengers are already required by law to wear seatbelts, but use is more casual than it should be because ignoring the law is not a “primary” infraction. Law enforcement personnel, for example, cannot pull over a driver for not using a seatbelt. Some other infraction must be suspected to enforce the seatbelt requirement.
National statistics show that average seatbelt use is 12 percent higher in states with a primary seat belt law. Research shows that in Utah about half of the unbuckled fatalities in 2012 – 39 people – could have been saved if a seat belt had been properly used.
The Utah Highway Patrol and a number of other groups also support a primary seatbelt law.
Braceras notes that highways and automobiles are safer today than ever before. When accidents and deaths are measured against increased highway miles traveled, far fewer deaths and injuries occur on the highways today than any time in the past. Additional technological advances on both highways and automobiles will continue to make driving safer.
And yet, every day multiple crashes occur on Utah roads and highways. On most days, someone is killed. And a significant number of deaths and injuries could be prevented if motorists would simply buckle up. A primary seatbelt law would save lives every year, Braceras says.
Some people argue that a primary seatbelt law would restrict personal freedom. But it isn’t just a matter of endangering oneself, say highway safety experts. Unbuckled drivers and passengers also put others at risk.
In a crash, unbuckled drivers and passengers can become projectiles, increasing the risk of hurting or killing others in the car by 40 percent.
Drivers in a crash or sliding on a slick road are vastly better able to stay in the driver seat and maintain control of the vehicle if they are wearing a seatbelt, preventing rollovers and crashes with other vehicles.
For more information, see UDOT’s ZERO Fatalities program: http://ut.zerofatalities.com