State officials gather in Frisco to speak on seat belt safety

Sam Cole, communications manager with CDOT, addresses the crowd outside St. Anthony Summit Medical Center about seat belt usage in the county.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

Are you buckling up when you get into your car?

That was the topic of conversation on Tuesday morning as a number of officials from around the state arrived outside the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center to speak on the importance of proper seat belt use as part of the state’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

“The goal of this campaign, you may think it’s just to write tickets and fine people for not buckling up, but really that’s not the reason,” said Sam Cole, communications manager with the Colorado Department of Transportation. “The real reason for Click It or Ticket is to get people to think ahead and buckle up so they stay safe, and we save lives on our roadways. That is the real reason. It’s a proactive campaign … when people hear about Click It or Ticket they’re more likely to buckle up, and that’s how we save lives.”

Representatives from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, the Colorado State Patrol, Summit County Public Health, the Breckenridge Police Department and the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District joined Cole outside the hospital for a short press conference meant to drive awareness of the issue, and to inspire individuals in rural Colorado to buckle up.

According to CDOT, Colorado is one of the worst states in the country in regards to seat belt usage rate — currently ranked 40th with 86 percent usage, compared to the 90 percent national average. Last year, 215 unbuckled drivers and passengers were killed in crashes around the state, more than half of the 410 total passenger vehicle fatalities.

Rural communities report even worse seat belt rates. In 2018, five of the state’s six counties with the lowest usage rates were in rural counties, including Cheyenne (65 percent), Delta (75 percent), La Plata (76 percent), and Montezuma and Chaffee (77 percent).

“We see some rural areas with 65 percent seat belt use,” said Cole. “That’s very concerning, but on top of that, rural areas of the state tend to have less emergency services. So if you’re in a crash, you may be up to 100 miles from the nearest trauma center and it’s going to take that much longer to get you help. That’s why your chances of dying in a crash in a rural area go up, and that’s the reason why, more than ever, if you’re traveling in a rural area you need to buckle up.”

The dichotomy in usage rates between rural and more urban areas of the state is something of a question mark, according to officials. Some postulate it has to do with lesser traffic, familiarity with roadways and a lack of reinforcement of usage from older generations.

“I think there’s a false sense of security because of a lack of traffic in some of the rural areas,” said major David Aldridge, District 4 commander with the Colorado State Patrol. “It’s people who have lived there all their lives. Maybe their grandparents or their parents didn’t wear seat belts so they just never had that behavior reinforced. Or they’re thinking, ‘I’m up here in the middle of nowhere, and I’ve driven this road a thousand times. So what are the chances of me getting in a crash?’

“Well a crash doesn’t necessarily have to be you and another vehicle. A crash can be you and a moose that can result in serious injury or death, or it could be hitting an icy spot and sliding into a tree.”

Summit County specifically appears to be somewhat ahead of the curve. In 2018, the county increased its seat belt usage to 87 percent, a three percent bump from 2017 that puts the county in the top third of the state. The increase in usage appears to have had an effect over recent years.

Gloria Quintero, early intervention service coordinator with Summit County Public Health, said that Summit County hasn’t had a child aged 12 or under die in a crash since 2011, in part due to child passenger safety initiatives in the county.

“At Summit County Public Health, through the child passenger safety initiatives, we are dedicated to keeping that number at zero, despite the fact that Summit County has as many motor vehicle crashes as the state average,” said Quintero.

Shelly Almroth, trauma program manager with St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, said that the hospital also participates in a number of programs meant to improve seat belt usage rates, such as the Teen Seat Belt Challenge — a six county competition between high schools, which Summit High School won last year with a 97 percent usage rate.

As Summit County continues to improve their usage rates, the state is hoping that the county can become something of a template for other areas looking to improve their own.

“The reason why we’re here is to highlight the great work we think is happening in Summit County,” said Cole. “Maybe that will serve as an example of what other communities can do across the state to improve seat belt use and traffic safety.”

CDOT’s Click It or Ticket campaign, the first of three this year, will continue through the end of the week. During the same enforcement period last year, almost 1,300 seat belt citations were issued in rural communities across the state. Fines for failing to properly buckle up begin at $65, and parents or caregivers caught with an improperly restrained child will receive a minimum fine of $82.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.