POSTED: Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 1:48pm
UPDATED: Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 8:36pm
BATON ROUGE, LA (NBC33) — Drunk drivers cause accidents. Seat belts save lives. Two facts that seem to go overlooked all too often. They are also two factors that seem to fall hand-in-hand with those who perish in a traffic crash.
Louisiana State Police Troop A reports that so far in 2012 they have investigated a total of 25 fatal crashes that resulted in a total of 35 deaths. Eleven of those crashes involved an impaired driver. Twenty-one of those were unrestrained of which nearly all were the impaired driver who caused the incident.
“It’s frustrating because we see it too often,” Trooper Russell Graham, Louisiana State Police Troop A, said. “So many fatal crashes and injuries can be avoided by wearing a seatbelt or making better decisions before getting behind the wheel."
The latest incident is not a fatality. However, the driver, Barney Smith, 59 of Jackson, was both impaired and unrestrained at the time of the crash, which happened shortly after midnight on LA 64 at US 61. Officials say the impact was so severe he had to be extracted from the vehicle by first responders and volunteer firefighters.
“He was taken to the hospital with critical injuries,” Trooper Graham, explained. “He slammed into the back of a log truck that had logs extending past the rear of the trailer. The logs smashed through the vehicle and the driver, who was not restrained, was thrown forward and came in contact with the front of the car.”
Although no fatality occurred in this case, the alternative is far too often a grim reality made worse by those who must live with the outcome.
“It’s devastating for the family and friends of the victims in these crashes,” Trooper Graham, described. “When there’s impairment involved or lack of seatbelt use, those loved ones are left with lingering questions.
"They ask themselves for the rest of their lives, ‘what if,’ or ‘if only.’ Most of those questions are ones we as Troopers don’t have answers to.”
The Louisiana State Police are currently participating in a nationwide program, Click it or Ticket, to enforce seatbelt usage. Although the campaign is not new, the way in which they are enforcing it, is.
“There is more federal money allocated to the program, so there are more Troopers who are able to work,” Trooper Graham, noted. “The additional funds allow Troopers to come in on their days off specifically to look for people who are not wearing their seatbelts.”
The hope is to catch unrestrained drivers before they do damage far greater than a traffic infraction.
“If you take out the two common denominators of impairment and lack of seatbelt use, you could potentially eliminate more than half of the fatal crashes we’ve seen this year.”
The statistics in this report only account for thos accident investigated by the Louisiana State Police in Troop A. This does not include crashes investigated by city police or sheriff's departments. Troop A includes East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, West Feliciana, East Feliciana, Livingston, Ascension, Iberville, and St. James Parish.