David Holthaus reports:
Two teenagers were killed, and a third seriously injured, in an early morning accident on Interstate 71 Saturday.
It was the latest auto fatality to involve a failure to wear seat belts. Despite an increase nationwide in the seat belt use, teenagers remain one of the age groups most resistant to wearing them. Teenagers are even less likely to use them late at night, statistics show.
Shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday, 19-year-old Danica McLester was driving north on I-71 when she lost control of the car near the Fields-Ertel exit, the Ohio Highway patrol said. The car veered into a highway sign on the right side of the road, rolled over and tumbled back across the interstate.
From the back seat, two passengers, neither of them wearing seat belts, were ejected.
Eighteen-year-old Matt Shuttleworth was killed when the car rolled over him, the patrol said.
A trailing semi-tractor trailer ran over Olivia French, 19, who was lying in the roadway, killing her.
A sport utility vehicle also hit the car, a 2005 Chrysler Concorde. McLester suffered serious injuries and was taken to University Hospital.
The front seat passenger, Derrek Jones, 22, suffered minor injuries and was taken to Bethesda North Hospital.
McLester and her passengers were all from Wilmington, Ohio.
Authorities are still investigating whether alcohol or drugs were involved.
But the outcome may have been different if the back-seat passengers had been wearing seat belts.
Seat belt use nationally has been increasing with awareness programs and state laws requiring their use. It now averages about 84 percent nationally. But teens are one of the groups less likely to wear them, the National Safety Council says. About 10 teens died each day in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2009, the NSC says.
Nationally, although the number of traffic fatalities in 2010 hit the lowest level since 1949, the number of fatalities actually increased in Ohio and Indiana, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The department did not say why. The number fell 4 percent in Kentucky.
Both states, as well as Kentucky, require seat belts to be worn. But Ohio does not require people over age 15 to wear them in the back seats.
Also, failing to wear seat belts in Ohio is only a secondary offense.
“They have to be doing something else wrong to get stopped for it,” said Sgt. Charles O’Bryon of the Ohio Highway Patrol.
In Kentucky and Indiana, failing to wear a seat belt is a primary offense, meaning drivers can be stopped if they or their passengers are not wearing them.
Although driving may be getting safer, O’Bryon says he’s noticed a trend recently of fatalities and injuries related to a lack of seat belts.
On Dec. 29, two teens were killed and a third injured in a one-vehicle crash in Stonelick Township. Eighteen-year-old Corey Peacock of Union Township was one of those killed. He was a back seat passenger who wasn’t wearing a seat belt.
In late November, 54-year-old Nona Wyche was killed when a car she was riding in struck another one that was changing lanes on I-75 near Elmwood Place. Wyche had been sitting in the back seat without a seat belt.
In early November, 16-year-old Breanna Ritchie was killed when the car she was riding in ran off Twin Bridges Road in Williamsburg Township and struck a guardrail and a tree. She had been in the back seat with two others, none of them wearing seat belts, police said.
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