Manitobans refuse to buckle up despite road deaths

In half of all fatal crashes this year, lack of seat belt use was listed as a contributing factor, says Manitoba RCMP. So far this year 94 people have died on Manitoba roads, up from 80 in 2015.

Lack of seatbelt use a factor in about half of 94 fatal crashes this year: RCMP

In half of the road deaths so far in 2016, not wearing seatbelts was listed as a contributing factor by Manitoba RCMP. (iStockphoto)

Manitobans have a problem with seatbelts and it's leading to an increase in road deaths, says the provincial RCMP.

After a spike in deaths last week — nine fatalities in six crashes —  RCMP said 2016 looks to be an unusually bad year for fatal collisions.

So far this year, 94 people have died on Manitoba roads, including one death in Thompson on Friday. In the entire year of 2015, 80 people died in crashes.

"We're on track to be around the range of where we were in 2011, which was a spike year," said Manitoba RCMP Chief Supt. Mark Fisher. In 2011, 110 people died on Manitoba roads.

"We still have two months of the year left and we're not even into winter driving conditions yet."

Speeding was a factor in 48 per cent of road deaths, while driving impaired was a factor in 39 per cent of fatal crashes this year, said RCMP.

But in about 50 per cent of fatal crashes, not wearing seatbelts was listed as a contributing factor. 

"A lot of us think it's intuitive and we don't even think twice about putting one on. Obviously there's lots of people who aren't in that same boat," said Fisher.

"A bit surprising given the day and age that we're in."

Seatbelts are extremely important in keeping drivers and passengers safe, the chief superintendent said. The straps prevent occupants from being thrown from the vehicle in a crash and they keep passengers safe from each other in a collision.

Fisher calls seatbelts, "your greatest chance of being protected from serious harm" and said, "without a doubt" lives would have been saved this year had everyone been wearing a seatbelt.

A longstanding problem

Lacklustre seatbelt compliance is hardly a new problem in Manitoba, but what's strange is the issue appears to be getting worse, not better.

Manitoba RCMP have noted an increase in the number of Manitobans not wearing seatbelts in fatal crashes, up between three and four per cent in recent years.

Fisher said it might be time to restart some the seatbelt awareness campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s.

"We're at that point now," he said. "Education has got to be a big component in this."

Year to date, 38,383 drivers have been ticketed for not wearing seatbelts, speeding and other provincial offences in 2016. By this time last year, only 29,458 had been ticketed.

The fine for not wearing a seatbelt in Manitoba is $299.65.

"We do our best on enforcement. We've got increased enforcement stats from across the province this year … but we're not seeing the impact," Fisher said.

"I think that's where the frustration really comes to bear," he said. "This is becoming a regular basis where we're going to families and telling them that they've lost somebody." 

Fisher said after last week's spike in deaths, more officers will be patrolling highways this weekend for impaired and distracted driving, speeding, lack of seatbelts, and other offences.