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SD's seat belt use rising, crashes declining

Extra grant money has allowed Davison County to crack down on speeding and seat belt usage, and it's led to a decrease in the number of crashes. Last week, the Davison County Sheriff's Office accepted $22,391.18 worth of federal highway grant fun...

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Extra grant money has allowed Davison County to crack down on speeding and seat belt usage, and it's led to a decrease in the number of crashes.

Last week, the Davison County Sheriff's Office accepted $22,391.18 worth of federal highway grant funds to support the continued enforcement of speeding and seat belts. The grant money will pay for deputies' overtime hours and allow for extra patrol, according to Davison County Chief Deputy Steve Harr.

This is the 11th year the office has accepted this grant money, according to Harr. The grant started as an alcohol enforcement program, but has since changed to speed and seat belt enforcement.

"I would say in general, our seat belt usage is up pretty dramatically from five to 10 years ago," Harr said.

It's designed to cut down on crashes, Harr said, and it's "absolutely working."

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In 2011, there was one fatality, 35 injuries and a total of 240 crashes in Davison County, according to Harr. And four years later, in 2015, two fatalities were reported, but injuries dropped to 23 and the total amount of crashes also fell to 188.

"You get to that point where you get things as best under control as you're going to get it and you want to stay consistent with it," Harr said.

Seat belts are more difficult to enforce than speeding, Harr said, because it is a secondary offense in South Dakota. That means a driver cannot be stopped solely for not wearing a seat belt.

According to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, there were 88 total fatalities in 2016. Of these fatalities, not including 28 non-applicable crashes involving motorcycles or pedestrians, 42 were wearing a seat belt.

Lee Axdahl, the director of the Office of Highway Safety said fatalities overall are down this year compared to 2015, but there are still too many fatal crashes involving those without seat belts.

"It is a proven fact that seat belts save lives; you have a better chance of surviving a crash if you are wearing a seat belt," Axdahl said. "The Department of Public Safety will continue to promote seat belt use and other safety measures. We want drivers and their passengers to be here tomorrow, the next day and into the future."

Crashes down statewide by 14.6 percent

There were two fatal crashes at opposite corners of south-central South Dakota last week, but fatal crashes are down substantially since 2015.

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According to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, there have been 88 fatalities in crashes from Jan. 1 to Oct. 11 in 2016, down from 103 fatalities over the same timeframe in 2015. The total fatalities this year mark a 14.6 percent drop compared to 2015.

The number of fatal crashes are also down. So far in 2016, there have been 77 fatal crashes, compared to 91 fatal crashes in 2015.

The drop in fatalities could be attributable to a 33.3 percent decline in motorcycle deaths in 2016. As South Dakota enters the colder months when many riders store their bike in for the winter, the state has seen 10 less motorcycle fatalities compared to last year, dropping from 30 in 2015 to 20 in 2016.

ATV and utility vehicle deaths, however, have jumped from one in 2015 to three in 2016. Pedestrians fatalities have also increased substantially, rising from one in 2015 to five in 2016. There have been no bicyclist fatalities through October in either 2015 or 2016.

The drop in overall fatalities comes on the heels of two fatal crashes in The Daily Republic's coverage area.

On Oct. 3, a 50-year-old Marion man died from injuries sustained in a one-vehicle crash near Freeman. Several counties to the west, in Tripp County, a 34-year old Moser man was ejected from a truck in a one-vehicle crash near Carter.

Neither driver in the Freeman or Carter crash was wearing a seat belt.

"Its very important (to wear a seat belt)," Harr said. "Because if you are involved in a crash and you can stay in a vehicle, your odds of surviving are tremendously better."

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There have been several other fatal crashes in the area this year, including many without the use seat belt:

• A 61-year-old Mitchell man in a one-vehicle crash in January near Plankinton on Interstate 90. He was not wearing a seat belt.

• A 33-year-old Vivian woman in a one-vehicle crash in March northwest of Presho. She was not wearing a seat belt.

• A 39-year-old Rapid City man in a one-vehicle crash near Murdo on U.S. Highway 83. He was not wearing a seat belt.

• A 21-year-old New York woman in a one-vehicle crash in April near Oacoma. She was not wearing a seat belt.

• A 70-year-old Yankton woman and a 48-year-old South Carolina man and his 12-year-old passenger in April in a two-vehicle collision near Tabor. Another was seriously injured, and at least two of the four were not wearing seat belts.

• A 22-year-old Lake Andes man in a one-vehicle crash in April in Wagner. He was not wearing a seat belt.

• An 18-year-old Alexandria man in a one-vehicle crash in June in rural Davison County. It is unknown if any of the occupants were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.

• A 25-year-old Ethan woman in a one-vehicle rollover in July in rural Davison County. She was not wearing a seat belt.

• A 16-year-old Wessington Springs man in a one-vehicle crash in August south of Ree Heights. He was not wearing a seat belt.

• A 22-year-old Minneapolis man and a 20-year-old Sturgis woman in a one-vehicle rollover in August near White Lake. Both were wearing seat belts.

• A 58-year-old Sioux Falls man in a two-motorcycle crash near Presho in August. He was not wearing a helmet.

• A 10-year-old Geddes boy in an August crash near Platte. He was not wearing a seat belt.

Related Topics: CRASHES
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