Belt up NZ - 94 killed in 2016: 'simply did not need to happen'
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In the last five years, over 300 people who died in New Zealand crashes were not wearing their seat belt.
Most of those deaths were in 2016.
The Herald, partnered by the New Zealand Police has launched Belt Up - a four day series about seatbelt safety aiming to raise awareness and improve safety for all Kiwis on our roads.
Police say many of the 94 people who died in crashes last year while not properly restrained, could have survived had they been wearing a seatbelt.
Today we find out who they were.
Our message is simple. Seatbelts save lives - Belt Up New Zealand.
Over the years Trevor Beggs has knocked on his fair share of doors to tell people their loved one has been killed in a crash.
It was always a task more horrendous when he had to deliver the news knowing that the death could easily have been prevented if the victim had simply put on a seatbelt.
"Sometimes you just stand there shaking your head thinking 'this simply did not need to happen'," he said.
"It's absolutely devastating to have to go to the family and tell them that they've lost somebody - and you know it simply didn't have to happen and it didn't have to be that way.
"You know there was a seatbelt there that could have saved that person but they didn't
wear it, it's just frustrating and it's very sad."
According to police there were 94 people killed in crashes last year who were unrestrained - almost a third of the total road toll.
Police say many of them could still be here today but for whatever reason they were either not restrained properly or at all.
In some cases the crash was so severe and the vehicle so damaged it was nearly impossible to definitively rule whether the victim was belted in or not, but based on expert examinations of the scene, police are confident it was most likely they were unrestrained to some degree.
Most of those killed were drivers.
The oldest victim was 95 and the youngest an 8-month-old baby boy who died alongside his mother.
National road policing manager Superintendent Steve Greally said whenever a life was lost in a crash it was an "absolute tragedy".
But when it was preventable, that tragedy intensified.
"When people make a mistake - and it doesn't have to be you that makes it, it could be someone else on the road - and you crash, if you've got your belt on you've got such a greater chance of surviving," he said.
"It's not foolproof but it's a hell of a better headstart and that's why it defies belief that some people just outright choose not to wear them.
"And unfortunately too many families, around 100 last year, have been ripped apart and the majority of those would probably still be intact had their loved one put that belt on."
Seatbelts were first invented in the mid 19th century but were not widely used in cars until much later.
In 1949 US car manufacturer Nash began to offer lap belts as options in its vehicles and by 1959 the three-point seatbelt - still used today - had been introduced as a standard safety feature in most cars.
The three-point seatbelt, the most modern version of the life saving safety device.
The belt is designed to keep drivers and passengers in their seats during a crash, limiting their movement and managing energy forced upon them to lessen the likelihood of serious injuries or death.
Research shows that a seatbelt alone can reduce the risk of injury or death by about 40 per cent.
The first seatbelt law, making it compulsory for all drivers and front-seat passengers to wear a belt, was put in place in Victoria, Australia in 1970.
Here, all cars registered after January 1, 1965 had to be fitted with belts in the front seats and a decade later a law came into force ordering front seat passengers to belt up or face a fine.
In 1989 it became compulsory for back seat passengers to belt up.
New Zealand's safety belt wearing rate is currently 96 per cent for adults in the front seat, and 90 per cent in the rear seat.
Each year the Ministry of Transport carries out a survey of public attitudes to road safety, which covers drink and drug driving, speed and enforcement, fatigue and distraction, roading and restraints.
Superintendent Steve Greally, police national road policing manager. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The most recent survey, published in September last year shows that most Kiwis recognised the safety benefits of seatbelts.
Just under 90 per cent of respondents believed enforcing the use of seatbelts helped to lower the road toll.
And less than 7 per cent stated that the risk of being seriously injured in a crash while not wearing a seatbelt was "low".
The survey shows most people seem to be switched on when it comes to restraints. But our death toll last year shows there are still people not buckling themselves - and in some cases their children - in when they hit the road.
"It's a devastating figure actually," said Beggs, now an Inspector who runs the Waitemata road policing team.
"It's bucking the trend internationally so we're quite concerned about it.
"Since seatbelts became a major focus in the 1970s and 80s the statistics for seatbelt fatalities have been trending down in developed countries so it's quite surprising to see this trend go the other way here."
In 2012, 2013 and 2014, the average number of people who died in crashes where they didn't have their belts on was much lower - around 57 people.
Beggs said the excuses people had for failing to wear their belt were never ending.
"I'm just making a short trip, or I'm in a rush or I simply forgot to put it on.
"And they are all things that are quite plausible to some extent - but putting your seatbelt on is a no-brainer. It should be a habit and a muscle memory to most people.
"And when you think how easily, even at low speed, you can sustain significant life-threatening injuries and how wearing your seatbelt can save you from all that - why wouldn't you do it?"
Caroline Perry from Brake - a charity that works to prevent road deaths and injuries and to support families bereaved by crashes across the country - is flummoxed by the figures.
"To us it's a huge concern that we are seeing this increase," she said.
"We know the devastation that road crashes cause, it's a huge tragedy that so many people have been involved in crashes where they weren't wearing a seatbelt and those lives could have been saved."
Perry said it beggared belief that people were still risking death, when safety was so simple.
"In a crash, a force of 20 times your body weight is put on the seatbelt," she explained.
"If you imagine not wearing a belt what your force would be going forward in the car...
"Our key message is that putting on a seatbelt is that simple essential thing you can do to reduce your risk of being killed or seriously injured in a car crash."
Safety belts save lives.
• They support you if you're in a crash or when a vehicle stops suddenly.
• The force on safety belts can be as much as 20 times your weight - this is how hard you'd hit the inside of your vehicle without restraint.
• Wearing a safety belt reduces your chance of death or serious injury in a crash by 40 per cent.
• Whether you sit in the front or the back seat, the risk of serious or fatal injury is virtually the same.
• NZ law requires drivers and passengers in cars and other motor vehicles to wear seat belts and child restraints.
• In the last five years, over 300 people who died in NZ crashes were not wearing their seat belt.
• Police say many of these people would still be alive today if they were safely wearing their seat belt.
(Source NZTA, MOT, NZ Police)