Guest Column by Dr. Noelle Hunter, Executive Director, Kentucky Office of Highway Safety

KBT Guest Column by Dr. Noelle Hunter, Executive Director,  Kentucky Office of Highway Safety

The Kentucky Office of Highway Safety is setting 2018 targets for the reduction of fatalities and serious injuries. This discussion pits our knowledge of data trends - which indicate a decrease in both fatalities and serious injuries by 2019 - against the realities we see each day in the Daily Fatality Report. In the past month, we watched the grim death count rise almost daily and the causes are always the same: speed; distracted and impaired driving; seat belt not in use. The latter has an especially tragic sting since simple measures such as wearing a seat belt and buckling children into approved child restraint systems are the number one way to survive a crash of any severity.

During the week of June 12 alone, we lost 14 lives, 11 of whom were not buckled up. That very week, as I sat in the television studio with a journalist, we watched an update on the tragic Mountain Parkway vehicle crash in which two young women died. The journalist wondered aloud whether they were wearing seat belts. I didn't know then, but the next day I had to tell her the sad truth: they were not buckled up. 

As a motorcyclist, I often ask other bikers whether they wear a helmet. Since I'm in the market for an upgrade, last week I stopped in a motorcycle shop. I chatted up the salesman, a fellow biker. When I asked him if he wore a helmet, he said a helmet makes his head too sweaty. When I asked him if he drove a pickup truck, he said he did. When I asked him if he wore a seat belt in his pickup truck, he said no. 

He kind of laughed when I told him he's in four key "at-risk" populations for traffic deaths and serious injuries - male, young professional, motorcyclist, pickup truck driver. I didn't laugh. In fact, it made me sad, and I marveled as these statistics became real before me. In 2016, 92 motorcyclists died in collisions; 62 of them were not wearing helmets. Pickup truck drivers have the lowest seat belt use in the state. I respectfully told the salesman that I hope he can stay alive and not be one of those statistics. He said I'd given him something to think about.

What if each of us courageously takes opportunities like this one to share the life-saving message of buckling up? What if we also shared the grim realities of not buckling up? We each can adopt a much more personal, localized approach to sharing the benefits of buckling up, obeying traffic laws and driving like our lives depend on it.

As we set our safety targets for 2018, we're mindful of where the data leads us, and we're equally mindful of the human factor. It's not a simple equation, but I am convinced that when we take both into consideration, the human factor weighs more heavily. We can all assume greater responsibility, make better driver behavior choices and encourage others to do the same.