SALT LAKE CITY — Over the next few weeks, police across the state will work overtime to look for unbuckled motorists.
The Utah Highway Safety Office estimates more than a third of a million Utahns still don't wear seat belts — a thought that's unimaginable for a crash survivor.
Wearing her seat belt became part of Helen Knipe's routine as a young driver. "Anytime if I don't have it on, it just feels so strange. You feel unsecured," she said.
Two years ago, that habit was tested. Knipe was headed home from work when she collided with another car.
"(It occurred) less than a mile from my house going through an intersection," she said. "I was wearing my seat belt, so all of the airbags went off in the car (and) came to a rest."
Ironically, Knipe had just left a meeting on Utah's primary seat belt law, new at the time. Her job, as the Highway Safety Office communication coordinator for the Utah Department of Public Safety, is to educate the public about safe driving behaviors.
"I wound up not having any injuries at all," Knipe said.
Seat belt usage in Utah is at nearly 88 percent, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety, which means approximately 362,000 Utahns still drive unbuckled. Nearly one-third of the people killed on Utah roads last year were not buckled in.
Michael Eldredge drove a garbage truck more than 30 years and said he locked in the behavior of buckling up after witnessing a terrible crash.
"A girl had a head-on collision on a wet road on 1300 East and she was thrown through the windshield. It took the whole windshield out," Eldredge said.
Knipe reminds everyone the risk they take when they don’t buckle up.
"A crash can happen any time, any place. You never leave your house in the morning thinking you're going to be involved in a crash,” Knipe said. "But, if I hadn't been wearing my seat belt, I would've been seriously injured, if not killed.
Knipe said there’s no time to quickly buckle up just before the crash, so don’t forget to make it part of your driving routine.
"It's just going to happen. So, the best way to protect yourself is to always have your seat belt on."
Enforcement intensifies on Utah roads starting May 22 through June 4, with more than 1,000 extra overtime shifts for law enforcement agencies across the state.
Contributing: Xoel Cardenas