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Group: Seat belts save lives

COULD YOU USE A BUCK? — Martin County Sheriff’s deputy Cory Ballard talks with a McDonald’s drive-thru customer during the lunch hour Friday at the restaurant. Ballard was there to give away $1 bills and some information on seat belt safety as part of a Toward Zero Deaths campaign. Cars in which all occupants were wearing seat belts got the free buck.

FAIRMONT — Drivers pulling up to the McDonald’s drive-thru in Fairmont during the lunch hour Friday may have experienced a little trepidation. But it was worth it.

A pair of Martin County Sheriff’s deputies were positioned next to the menu boards and intercoms, ready with a message and reward. Cars in which everyone was wearing their seat belt meant a $1 bill for the driver, courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System. McDonald’s threw in a free slushie. And each car received some information about the importance of buckling up every trip.

McDonald’s owner Wes Clerc came out to snap some photos, and joked with Deputy Cory Ballard that hopefully people were not scared away by seeing law enforcement. They didn’t seem to be.

A similar effort was taking place across town at the Hy-Vee gas station, where Fairmont police officers were giving out dollars bills and good advice.

Among the other groups partaking were the Minnesota State Patrol and South Central Minnesota EMS System, with all of them involved in the Toward Zero Deaths campaign, meant to save lives on Minnesota roads.

Police and other first responders say the evidence is overwhelming that seat belts save lives.

They note, for example, that from 2013 to 2017, Minnesota crash statistics show that of the 17,436 children ages zero to 7 who were properly restrained, 87 percent were not injured, while another 11 percent suffered only possible injuries.

They also say that in 2017, 78 unbelted motorists lost their lives on Minnesota roads, with 76 percent of those deaths occurring in outstate Minnesota.

Police point out that regardless of how good a driver someone may be, there are always other hazards with which to contend. These include other (distracted) drivers drifting into your lane, deer jumping into your path or the “road-rager” who is tail-gating or cutting you off.

If the sound advice of law enforcement is not enough, Minnesota also has a mandatory seat belt law. Police can stop and ticket unbelted drivers and passengers. Children must be in special seats until they are 4-feet-9 or age 8, whichever comes first.

The law appears to be paying dividends. In 1987, prior to the mandate, there were 4,176 vehicle occupants who suffered severe injuries in traffic crashes in the state. The number had dropped to 1,215 in 2017.

But police, first responders and others are not just about enforcement and issuing tickets. They also want to help people do the right thing, the right way.

To that end, the coalition is sponsoring a free car seat checkup from 4-6 p.m. June 7 at the Fairmont Fire Station, 216 E. Fourth St. Appointments are not needed. Certified child passenger safety technicians will be on hand to check for recalls and to ensure that all child safety seats are installed according to manufacturer specifications.

Each seat check takes 30 to 40 minutes. Those who attend are asked to bring manuals for their seats and vehicles.

To schedule a seat check or for more information, the public may contact Sheila Denton, child passenger safety liaison, at (507) 236-8152 or by email at: sheila.denton@scmnems.org

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