WEST VALLEY CITY — The Utah Department of Public Safety called on the help of a young race car driver to remind drivers to buckle up as seat belt enforcement increases.
Tuscan Nuccitelli, a 9-year-old Bandolero race car driver, shared his personal experiences with driver safety Thursday as the department announced its increased seat belt enforcement effort from May 22 to June 4.
Tuscan regularly races at speeds up to 60 mph, hugging turns and gunning down straightaways. But in his two years of racing, Tuscan has always worn a seat belt, he said.
And after crashing, he has learned to appreciate them.
"I was going into turn three and four, and I hit the wall at about 60 miles per hour," Tuscan said, describing his first time crashing.
The back end of his Bandolero race car slid out while rounding the turn, and the car hit the barrier. Fortunately, the young driver walked away relatively unharmed.
Tuscan demonstrated his race car driving skills Thursday on the driver's license test track at 2780 W. 4700 South.
Seat belts are "super important," he said, and he credits his five-point harness with protecting him during the crash.
Utah has participated in the Click It or Ticket campaign of increased seat belt enforcement for the past 17 years. The program is a combined effort from the state public safety and transportation departments.
"This is about education first and enforcement second," West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo said of the program.
The National Highway Safety Administration has reported that wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of injury and death by about 50 percent.
The Department of Public Safety reports that about 88 percent of Utah drivers use seat belts, meaning roughly 362,000 motorists in the state are not buckling up.
The department also noted that 80 of the 281 collision fatalities in Utah in 2016 occurred with drivers who were not wearing seat belts.
"There have been accidents where people get needlessly injured and have lifelong brain issues from that," Russo said.
The chief said he can remember a time when seat belts were optional in vehicles, but after becoming a police officer and seeing the injuries and fatalities that occur without seat belts, he learned to wear his seat belt "religiously."
Russo said drivers who don't wear seat belts typically say the restraints are uncomfortable or that they forgot to buckle up while they were in a rush.
Those reasons, he said, are not significant enough to justify not wearing a seat belt.