Hoosiers continue to 'click it' 30 years after seatbelt law enacted

close up seat belt in modern car
↓ Advertisement ↓

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Clicks were the sound of the summer in 1987 as Indiana rolled out its seatbelt law on July 1.

It was a big change for Hoosiers – at the time studies suggested only 20 percent of Indiana drivers were buckled up.

The law required anyone in the front seat of a car or bus to wear a seatbelt but any vehicle with a "truck" license plate was exempt and enforcement was, by law, an afterthought.

There were a number of loopholes until 2007 when legislators expanded the law, requiring every person in a vehicle to buckle up.

Car, truck, or SUV – front seat or backseat, everyone now has to wear a seatbelt.

↓ Advertisement ↓

“Fast-forward to present day, we are just shy of 92 percent usage. Now while that seems like a tremendous number, there’s still 8 percent to go. We cannot leave out that 8 percent. And until we’ve reached 100 percent usage, we’re not going to stop,” Sgt. Philip Hensley, Indiana State Police, said.

Sgt. Hensley says the 8 percent is largely made up of young people – teenagers and drivers in their early 20’s.

“And stubborn as we are, males tend to wear it less than females – females are better at wearing them,” he said.

In a quick, 5 minute spot test along I-265 in Floyd County, Sgt. Hensley counted 6 eastbound drivers not wearing seatbelts.

"From our standpoint that's not six traffic stops and six tickets. That's six lives that could potentially be impacted should they go down the road, a mile down the road, have a crash and something happen.” Sgt. Hensley said. “We don't know what the next half mile, mile, two miles brings – it's sort of an unknown. If you don't have it on you're putting yourself at risk.

According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, more than half of the people killed in passenger car crashes in 2015 were not wearing seatbelts – a grim reality that claimed 296 lives.

Among them, 17-year-old Michelle Kiewitt, a Seymour High School senior thrown from her vehicle as she and a group of friends crashed in rural Harrison County.

It's scenes like these that haunt Indiana's officers charged with enforcing the seatbelt law.

Sgt. Hensley is an accident reconstructionist for the State Police, responding to some of southern Indiana’s most horrific crashes.

“There is nothing worse – you get a call over the radio ‘hey, there’s been a crash with injury, possible ejection.’ Their bodies laying out in the street. You go over to that body, you pick it up and hold it in your arms – this lifeless, not moving body and watch them take their last breath in your arms, puts the usage of seatbelts in a completely different perspective. Knowing if they would have been wearing that seatbelt, they still could have had a fighting chance to get through and survive that crash,” he said.  

The fine for not wearing a seatbelt in Indiana is a mere $25 – a slap on the hand for those who say they would rather go without.

But 30 years of data and heartbreak suggests the real cost could be your life.

“You oughta wear it for yourself. You oughta wear it for your family. Wear it for your loved ones. Who after you are involved in a bad crash, can go to you, give you a hug and say ‘hey, I’m glad you made it.’”

Compared to other states, seatbelt usage in Indiana is fairly strong.

According to Indiana State Police, Indiana is ranked 14th in the nation for seatbelt usage.