Seatbelts: Changing Behavior by Changing Laws

By Darlene Whitlock
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead
US anthropologist and popularizer of anthropology (1901 - 1978)
Although the best thing about the passage of the primary seatbelt legislation was the passage of the primary seatbelt legislation, several other good things happened too. A group of thoughtful committed citizens worked together to succeed in passing a law that will undoubtedly save lives.
The first good thing is to recognize and thank the group of legislators themselves. After many attempts over multiple years, a majority of the members of both the House and the Senate voted to pass a primary seatbelt law. Although it is not ideal, it will ultimately be recognized as a public health victory.
Another good thing that I witnessed personally was being involved with diverse groups, all focused on one prevention effort. Through the use of electronic media, I saw professional nursing groups such as the Kansas State Nurses Association and the Kansas Emergency Nurses Association, EMS providers from all around the state, my hospital administrative leadership, bedside caregivers and non-healthcare friends contact their representatives to voice their request for passage of this law. I appreciate every one of those folks who followed through and took the time to make the contact and voice their request. Other organizations including KDOT, AAA, KAC, KHP and others lead the way with drafting and lobbying for the bill, this kind of grass roots support is what is needed to form a coalition that influences change.
Obviously, I believe that the implementation of a primary seatbelt law will reduce deaths and severe injury. As an ED/Trauma nurse for more than 35 years, I have seen first-hand the difference that safety belts can make. Being ejected from a vehicle subjects the human body to injury from whatever they come in contact with outside the car. Even if it is not ejected, the unrestrained human body becomes a missile that not only is injured, but also may be the wounding force that strikes other passengers. What a tragedy to think that a person wearing their seatbelt or in their car seat might be injured by person who is not restrained.
One of the first questions trauma nurses are taught to ask about motor vehicle crash details, is if the patient was restrained. If they were not restrained, the nurse immediately has a heightened suspicion of more severe injuries than if they were restrained. The passage of this primary seatbelt law will hopefully mean that more trauma nurses will learn that the patient they are caring for protected themselves in one of the best ways possible---they were wearing their seatbelt-----they will probably recover from their injuries.

Darlene S. Whitlock works in Trauma Services at Stormont Vail

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