I haven't written much about safety or health issues in my columns and pledged earlier that these areas would get more attention this year.
I have to admit that I wasn't a strong advocate of the seat belt laws when they were first introduced. Like most of us who are over 40, we grew up without them and when we were forced to begin buckling up it was a hard habit to learn. But, like any habit, when done enough you do it without giving it a second thought. I have only received one ticket and that was about 12 years ago when one of my sons was not buckled up and we drove by an officer while living in Pendleton, Ore. I learned my lesson from that experience, but the real lessons around seat belts have been the multitude of accidents I have covered or come across where the lack of seat belt usage was the leading cause of death.
A recent survey in 10 of Utah's rural counties shows that 57.9 percent of motorists wear their safety belts. This rate is significantly lower than the safety belt use rate observed in Utah's most populated counties (Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington and Weber), which was determined to be 85.2 percent in a June 2003 survey. Historically, rural communities have demonstrated lower safety belt use rates than in urban areas in both state and national studies.
The survey was conducted in December 2003 and observed motor vehicle drivers and front seat passengers in rural counties with populations above 12,000 people . This included Carbon county. The results were adjusted for population and vehicle miles traveled.
Of the counties surveyed, Carbon had the highest usage rate at 72.6 percent and San Juan had the lowest usage rate at 41.0 percent.
"This survey provides us with a better understanding of safety belt use statewide. Seat belts save lives. Not wearing a seat belt contributes to more fatalities than any other traffic related behavior," said David A. Beach, Director of the Utah Highway Safety Office.
Another news release that came across my desk pertaining to health issues was a survey about smokers among pregnant women. The encouraging news is that in Utah, the percentage of women who reported smoking during the last three months of their pregnancy decreased by almost eight percent from an earlier survey.
In 2001, 12 percent of mothers nationwide were reported to have smoked during pregnancy.
According to the Office of the Surgeon General, smoking is probably the most important preventable cause of poor pregnancy outcomes among women in the United States.
Also in Utah, 10.1 percent, or 4700 of Utah women reported they were smoking.
Smoking is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery, and infant death, and is a cause of low birth weight in infants. If you are pregnant and currently smoking, consider these risks about smoking during your pregnancy and the benefits of quitting:
Smoking during pregnancy is estimated to account for 20 to 30 percent of low-birth weight babies, up to 14 percent of pre-term deliveries, and 10 percent of all infant deaths.
In 2001, 11.9 percent of babies born to smokers in the United States were of low birth weight, compared to 7.3 percent of babies of nonsmokers.
Research also suggests that infants of mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy are more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) compared to infants whose mothers do not smoke.
There is a significant health benefit for women who quit smoking during pregnancy. Low birth weight could be reduced by 17-26 percent by eliminating smoking during pregnancy.
If all pregnant women in the United States stopped smoking, there would be an estimated 10 percent reduction in infant deaths.
If anyone wants more information about smoking or seat belts they should contact the local health department.