Two people were killed on Sunday in western Montana car accidents, and according to the Montana Highway Patrol, neither were wearing seat belts.

One was an eight year-old girl from Lolo, the other was a 43 year-old woman from Oregon.

MHP Captain Jim KItchen said on Tuesday that when troopers arrive at the scene of an accident, they can tell immediately whether or not seat belts were used.

"It gets to the troopers out there on scene," Kitchen said. "If that person had just had there seat belt on we wouldn't be in this position. This has a huge effect on our communities. You look at that child that was just killed. Some of the Facebook posts from the friends and family, it's just so devastating to everyone."

Kitchen and the Montana Highway Patrol have been working for years to make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, but have had to change their approach.

"This past session, we tried to go through the Department of Health and Human Services to see if they could get something moving there because that's the way we're starting to view it," he said. "It's a health issue and a human services issue that we need something done with these seat belts. In Washington the penalty is really high for not wearing a seat belt, but the usage rate there is so much higher than Montana. We're down around 78 percent in Montana, and that's still below the national average."

Kitchen also put to rest the idea that a slow speed accident is not that dangerous during in-town driving, as an excuse for not using a seat belt for a trip to the store.

"In a head-on collision at just 35 miles per hour, it's actually a 70 miles per hour crash," he said. "The change of velocity in a crash like that can kill or seriously injure you, and that seat belt and air bag is there to protect you. They go through the windshield, they are thrown out the door of the vehicle, and it's just devastating to see that."

Safe Kids Missoula also reminds parents that the proper child safety seat changes as children grow older, and to call 926-2522 for more information, or visit the Safe Kids Missoula website.


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