Looking at the damage to Brent Morris' pickup, it's hard to believe he walked away from a March 31 head-on crash with little more than bruises.
It was about 9 p.m. and at the height of the area's last winter storm. Morris, 39, of Brainerd was driving home on Washington Street in northeast Brainerd. He figured he was doing between 40-45 mph when he reached the westbound off ramp of Highway 25. That's when another pickup slid through the stop sign and collided with Morris' pickup.
"At the last second I realized what was happening and cranked the wheel to the left to avoid him but it was too late," Morris said.
Brent Morris took this photo of his Ford F-150 after it was totaled March 31 in a head-on collision. Morris, who was uninjured in the crash, said he wouldn't buy another vehicle without proper seat belts and airbags.
The pickups collided, crushing the front end of Morris' vehicle and snapping both wheels off the axles. The trucks then swung around and smashed into the rear boxes.
"It knocked me out for a split second," Morris said. "I remember I turned the steering wheel and the next thing I knew I woke up with my arms in the air and kind of gasping for air."
Neither Morris nor the other driver were seriously injured. For that, Morris credits using his seat belt and the pickup's airbags. The only injuries Morris had were bruises from the seat belt and a sore neck and chest from the airbag.
"The seat belt, it held me right there," Morris said. "When I woke up I didn't even move. I know that if I wouldn't have been wearing my seat belt, my head or something probably would have gone through the window."
See SEAT BELTS, Page 2A
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimates that using safety restraint devices reduces the risk of death and serious injury by 40 percent to 60 percent.
In the 2007 there were 399 deaths and 1,233 severe injuries reported in traffic crashes in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts book.
Of the 399 deaths, about 49 percent were not wearing seat belts, 41 percent were and 10 percent were listed as unknown. Of the severe injuries, about 32 percent were not wearing seat belts, 52 percent were and 16 percent were listed as unknown.
Seat belt use in Minnesota is about 88 percent.
"The story is wear a seat belt, save a life," said Sgt. Curt Mowers, public information officer for Brainerd District of the State Patrol. "The statistics prove it - wearing a seat belt does save lives."
Mowers said law enforcement officers are still trying to debunk myths about seat belt use, such as it would be safer to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash rather than trapped inside. In truth, someone not buckled up becomes a projectile and could seriously injure themselves or others in the vehicle, he said.
Fewer people are believing that seat belts are unsafe, Mowers said, and during most traffic stops people not buckled up are telling State Patrol troopers that they simply forgot to do so.
That's why the State Patrol is hopeful the Legislature will pass a law making seat belt use mandatory. It's the fourth year in a row that the Legislature is considering such a law.
If passed, the law would make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, meaning law enforcement officers could pull over a vehicle for that infraction alone. Right now, they can't.
"It does have a lot of support but it's a political football and unfortunately what they're playing with is people's lives," Mowers said. "And that's what it's all about, saving lives. The government is not trying to take control of people's lives. It's a safety issue."
Morris has been a believer for the past 10 years, after a friend died in a vehicle collision. He said the friend would be alive today if he had been wearing his seat belt.
"I've been wearing them since. I've always had that habit no matter what," Morris said.
Since the crash he's been driving a 33-year-old pickup with just a lap restraining belt. Morris said he's nervous driving that pickup.
"When I come up to any intersection I have my foot on the brake and am watching the other drivers," Morris said. "I will not get another vehicle that does not have an over-the-shoulder seat belt and an airbag."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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