JEFFERSON CITY — I strapped myself in, anticipating the collision. Within seconds of being in motion, the vehicle came to an abrupt stop as my body continued to speed forward toward a metal panel that separated me from the pavement. But the seat belt stopped me.
“You would have gone straight through the window” if this were a real crash and you weren’t buckled in, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Chris Ricks.
The contraption I rode in Thursday afternoon at a highway patrol media event is called, quite appropriately, a convincer. It’s designed to encourage seat belt use by simulating the effects of a low-speed collision. The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety purchased nine convincers for about $11,000 each from an engineering institute based at Kansas State University.
The convincers, which will be taken to schools and used in driver education programs as part of the “Click It or Ticket” campaign, work like a car seat sliding down an incline. After gaining a maximum speed of about 5 mph, the seat collides with a bumper at the end of the ramp and the seat belt does its job.
I was convinced.
But, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation, some drivers still aren’t. About 70 percent of those who die in Missouri car crashes are unrestrained. A department study found that about 77 percent of Missouri drivers and front-seat passengers wore their safety belts in 2005. Missouri was about four percentage points behind the national rate of seat belt use that year.
Highway patrol superintendent Col. Roger Stottlemyre said he hopes the convincers will help to improve that rate.
“Citizens will see first-hand how well seat belts actually protect the occupants of a vehicle without them actually having to be in a collision,” Stottlemyre said.
Since Missouri joined the “Click It or Ticket” campaign in 2004, seat belt use in the state has increased about two percentage points.
One convincer will be stationed at each of the patrol’s troop headquarters, and the contraptions will be used throughout the state at schools and at events such as the state fair. The convincers are designed to be towed as a trailer would be, and Ricks said some of the new convincers have already been lined up for drivers’ education schools.
The Kansas Department of Transportation purchased three convincers about six years ago and have bought three more since. The department’s seat belt usage data shows that 69 percent of the state’s drivers and front-seat passengers buckled up in 2005. Pete Bodyk, chief of the Kansas department’s traffic safety bureau, said the benefits of the convincers exceed their cost.
“All it takes is a few people to buckle up to prevent some serious injuries, and if those people don’t have insurance it saves a lot of money in the long run,” Bodyk said.