COURTLAND - An area man was given an award Friday by the Minnesota State Patrol for what many may take for granted: remembering to wear his seatbelt. However, the award has a much larger goal of trying to save many lives through encouraging more people to pursue that simple course of action.
The Saved By The Belt Award was given to Jerome Plagge, of Courtland, at the Brown County Law Enforcement Center. The award is given out a few times each year to car accident survivors who wore their seatbelt and were not responsible for the accident.
State Patrol Capt. Brian West said the purpose of the 25-year old award is to raise awareness about how essential it is to wear a seatbelt. He said that encouraging even one more person to wear their seatbelt made the award worth it.
State Trooper Jason Hopland awarded the Saved By The Belt Award to Courtland resident Jerome Plagge on Friday at the Brown County Law Enforcement Center for the fact he was wearing a seatbelt when he was involved in an accident last June. The award is part of a Minnesota State Patrol campaign to strongly encourage more people to perform the simple live-saving act of wearing their seatbelt while driving.
Plagge said he was just as enthusiastic about the award and its message because of his own experience in the accident. The accident occurred back on June 6 on Highway 30 near Storden. He said that wearing his seatbelt was an automatic habit for him, but he still felt grateful he was wearing it a vehicle from the other direction crossed the center line and struck him head-on. Both vehicles were severely damaged, and the other driver had to be cut out of her vehicle.
"It was important that I was [wearing my seatbelt]. I would have been hurt pretty badly in the accident, if I hadn't been," said Plagge.
State Trooper Jason Hopland, who was the officer to respond to Plagge's accident, said that in his experience, the use of a seatbelt was big factor in how badly people were injured. He said that being kept from being thrown from a vehicle dramatically increased a person's chances of survival because the vehicle could take the impact far better than a human body.
The award also tries to encourage seatbelt use by raising awareness about how much lower southern Minnesota drivers user their seat-belts than other portions of the state. The State Patrol's 2011 seatbelt survey found only 84.7 percent of drivers used seatbelts in southeast Minnesota. The number dropped even further to the west, with the southwest region reporting only 81.1 percent of drivers using seatbelts.
The reasons for the lower rates is still somewhat unknown, though Plagge and the officers offered their opinions. Plagge and West both suggested it was due to people assuming the rural roads were inherently safer because they were less densely car-filled than the Twin Cities area. West said people similarly assume that short, familiar drives do not carry the same danger as longer drives. Hopland said he sees the failure to not wear seat-belts in older generations, who did not grow up with a habit of using seat-belts, and much younger generations, who have not been driving long enough to develop the habit.
"Hopefully people will think about how important it is. It's something simple that makes a big difference," said Plagge.
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.