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More Travelers Raise Need For Road Safety
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Holiday travelers fill the roads with traffic, making accidents more likely, but travelers can take precautions to increase their chances of arriving safely.
According to the Mississippi Department of Safety, 858 people died on Mississippi roads in 1997. Of these, 14 were killed in accidents at Christmas and New Year's.
Figures released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicate that as many as 47 percent of highway fatalities could be prevented with the use of seat belts and air bags. But in 1998, 58 percent of Mississippians are using their seatbelts, up from just 43 percent in 1997.
Jim Ingram, Mississippi Department of Public Safety commissioner, said his department is doing all it can to protect travelers on Mississippi roads.
"The Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol will use every available trooper and every means at our command to get drunk drivers and speeders off Mississippi highways during the holiday season," Ingram said. "We are serious about making our highways safer and ... we will have a zero tolerance for those who drink and drive and those who speed."
Linda Patterson, health education specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said seat belts, air bags and child safety seats all can reduce injuries and improve a person's chance of surviving a serious crash.
"Whenever you're traveling in a vehicle, be sure your seat belt is fastened snugly, and check to make sure that everyone else in the vehicle is securely belted in place," Patterson said. "Air bags are designed to supplement your seat belt in case of a head-on collision, and should never be depended on exclusively."
Children too small for seat belts should always be buckled properly into car seats. Mississippi law fines drivers if children 8 years and younger in the vehicle are not buckled into age-appropriate protective devices.
Never hold children on laps or let them ride unbuckled. Patterson said in crashes, children on laps in the front seat get crushed between the dashboard and the person holding them. In the back seat, unbuckled children are thrown toward the windshield.
Choose the correct child safety seat. Be sure it fits the vehicle and does not extend over the seat edge. Make sure the harness and belts are long enough to hold the seat securely in place.
"Infants up to 20 pounds should ride in rear-facing car seats," Patterson said. "Older children under 40 pounds or 40 inches should ride in forward-facing car seats."
Bigger children up to 60 pounds should ride in booster seats correctly belted in the vehicle. Beyond this size, children should wear seat belts the same way as do adults.
"Your lap belts should rest low and snug across your hips, not your abdomen," Patterson said. "The shoulder belts should lie over your collarbone and across your chest with little, if any, slack. Wearing the shoulder belt any other way can cause serious injuries in a crash."
In addition to using safety equipment properly in vehicles, drivers can take other precautions to increase safety.
"Never drive after drinking alcohol or using drugs," Patterson said. "Not only is this illegal, but it severely impairs the driver's reasoning and response time."
Another big danger is driving while drowsy. Patterson said an estimated 15,000 Americans die each year when drivers doze off at the wheel.
"As many as 20 percent of American drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once in their lives," Patterson said. "People just aren't aware of when they're too tired to drive."
Patterson said to prevent accidents caused by drowsy drivers, don't drive when overly tired or when taking medication that causes drowsiness. Don't use cruise control in rainy conditions or when tired, as this can further lull the body to sleep.
"If you start to feel sleepy, stop at a rest area for some exercise and light refreshments," Patterson said. "It's a good idea to take a break from driving every two hours even if you don't feel sleepy."
Patterson gave other driving safety tips. These include:
- keep the eyes and head moving, watching action on all sides of the vehicle;
- get out of the way of tailgaters;
- use driving lights during the day to increase visibility to others; and
- don't drive too fast at night for the limited visibility offered by headlights.
Common mistakes drivers make include passing or pulling into traffic without checking for oncoming vehicles, driving too fast or too slow, talking on portable phones, tailgating, being distracted or not paying attention, and not driving defensively.