About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Seat belts are a trauma surgeon’s passion

  Talk to someone who works in a trauma service, like the one at Mary Washington Hospital, and you’ll probably find a passionate advocate for seatbelts. They see what can happen when you don’t use them.

 This week two unrestrained people were killed in a single-car accident in KingRoberts George County. The next day someone who uses the screen name “Trauma doc” commented on this Web site:

“Folks get mad at me when I tell them to secure their kids in the moving car. It’s nice to see their shiny smiling faces looking out the back window standing up. It’s not so shiny or smiley when they are ejected out that window. Happens a lot.”

And last week at his regular “Trauma EMS Night,” Dr. Lawrence Roberts, right, medical director of the new trauma service at Mary Washington, said he gets impatient with families who tell him that their loved ones’ injuries would have been worse if they had been belted.

 “In modern cars that’s not the case,” Roberts said. “The passenger compartment provides the best protection. It’s the people that get thrown against the walls or the steering wheel or the windshield, or get ejected, they’re the ones that always suffer.”

Roberts and the staff of the trauma service meet regularly with members of the local rescue squads. Last week they reviewed a recent fatal accident where two people were killed and another was injured in a collision. An air bag in their vehicle deployed, but none of the occupants was wearing a seat belt. 

“I don’t know if wearing a seat belt could have saved them. I do know statistically the chance of them surviving a head-on was very low,” Roberts said. “But I think seat belts could have helped. If you looked at some of those pictures of the passenger compartment, the intrusion wasn’t horrible on the front. There was some on the sides. Undoubtedly they would have been injured, but they might have survived.”

Seat-belt use stood at 83 percent nationally in 2008, according to the federal government. In Virginia, the rate was 81 percent. Virginia is one of 23 states with a “secondary enforcement” seat belt law. Occupants of a vehicle must be stopped for another violation before they can be ticketed for not using their seat belts.