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CDOT says Pueblo County ranks last in the state for seatbelt use, results in 16 deaths

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO)-- According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), vehicle crashes in Pueblo may be more likely to result in serious injury or death than anywhere else in Colorado.

The 2022 CDOT Colorado seatbelt study showed Pueblo County ranked last in the state for seat belt use, with nearly a third of vehicle occupants, meaning both drivers and passengers, going unbuckled.

On Wednesday, CDOT, law enforcement, first responders, and doctors from the Pueblo community came to react to the recent report and provided important local perspectives to drivers and passengers. In addition, student-athletes from Pueblo high schools provided a firsthand demonstration of the major difference seat belts make by trying out Colorado State Patrol’s seat belt convincer.

Pueblo football player on the seat belt convincer

Colorado State Troopers say many lives could have been saved if they were wearing their seatbelt. 76% of people in Pueblo who died in car accidents were unbuckled. The CDOT study reports that 16 people have died as a result of being unbuckled.

Colorado State Trooper, Micheal Tufoya, recalls the moment he lost his sister 19 years ago. He said she was not wearing a seatbelt.

"I lost a sister in a motor vehicle crash on Highway 25 because she made the decision of choice, not to use a seatbelt. Had she made the proper decision on that day to utilize the seatbelt, she would most likely still be here with us today. So I've experienced personally the destruction of not using a seatbelt and what that can cause and bring to your loved ones," said Tufoya.

According to the CDOT study, occupants of SUVs tend to have the highest usage of seatbelts. But unfortunately, those in pickup trucks tend to have the lowest at 78.5%.

CDOT study results

Tufoya said it only takes a couple of seconds to put on a seatbelt.

"Without taking those few seconds to buckle, your seatbelt can absolutely cost you your life and absolutely devastate your loved ones and those you leave behind," said Tufoya.

Tufoya said he thinks culture is to blame for some not wearing seatbelts.

"The further rural you go, right, people living in maybe farming communities, they grow up on the farms and they grow up on the back rural roads, not utilizing seat belts as young kids. And they grow up carrying those same habits forward. I also think, you know, some people just grew up the older generation grew up again, not using seatbelts, but it's about forming those habits and just abiding by the law," said Tufoya

Under Colorado law, if you're an adult over the age of 18 driving without a seatbelt, it's a $65 fine with a surcharge. The fine goes to the driver, not the individual not wearing a seatbelt. If the person is under the age of 18 or the person operating the vehicle is not wearing a seatbelt, it's an automatic summons to court.

However, the traffic manager for CDOT, Sam Cole, said there's a loophole in the seatbelt law. Cole said if a person is over the age of 18 and is seating in the backseat, you technically are not required to wear a seatbelt under Colorado Law.

"I don't think a lot of people understand the nuance of the law like that. I think people feel safer in the back seat for some unknown reason. You can be injured or killed in the back seat or the front seat no matter what seat position you're in. You need to buckle up. I don't understand why the law is written the way it is, because really, no matter where you're sitting, you should be buckled up," said Cole.

State troopers said they will continue to monitor the streets to make sure people are wearing seatbelts. They also will continue to go to schools giving a lesson on the proper seat belt use and the safety of wearing a seatbelt.

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Barbara Fox

Barbara is a reporter based out of Pueblo for KRDO


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