EDITORIAL: Amid a deadly May on Wyoming highways, drive safely and buckle up

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May has proven to be a deadly month on Wyoming’s highways.

Within seven days, seven people were killed in motor vehicle crashes around the state. One of those wrecks happened close to home: A Northwest College student and two French tourists were killed in a head-on collision south of Meeteetse on May 8.

On May 10, a 21-year-old from Gillette died in a one-vehicle rollover near Gillette. A head-on collision near Torrington on May 13 claimed the lives of two people — a 67-year-old from Torrington and a 22-year-old from Tennessee. The following day, on May 14, an 81-year-old woman from Virginia was killed in a one-vehicle rollover near Pine Bluffs.

As we report details from fatal crash reports, we remember that behind those numbers are real people. The seven who have died this month were beloved family members and friends, and they leave behind mourning loved ones, some here in Wyoming and others across the globe.

While the circumstances surrounding each crash are different, the wrecks are sobering reminders of the inherent dangers of driving. Most of us drive every day, and it becomes such an ordinary routine that we can forget how dangerous driving truly can be.

Going into Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer vacations, more drivers will be on Wyoming’s roads, whether it’s a family going camping or tourists venturing into Yellowstone.

It’s a good time to remember to make driving your top priority when behind the wheel. Distracted driving is an all-too-common factor in crashes, and it’s easily preventable. Unfortunately, drunk driving also continues to kill people on Wyoming’s highways, even though it’s entirely preventable.

The simple task of buckling your seat belt whenever you’re in a vehicle can save your life.

Last year, 941 people were not wearing a seat belt when they were involved in car crashes in Wyoming. Of those, 59 were killed and another 434 were injured, according to statistics presented by Gov. Matt Mead.

“We spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to discover how to save lives. And here we have this opportunity for us to buckle up,” Mead said in a recent Wyoming Tribune-Eagle article. “It’s free, it takes virtually no time, and in doing that, we avoid the economic costs and, most importantly, we avoid the human costs.”

While we’ve all certainly heard about why we should buckle our seat belts, many Wyomingites choose to disregard that message. The Cowboy State sees more crash fatalities due to unbuckled drivers than surrounding states, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reported. That’s a statistic we should try to change, and all it takes is a simple click of a buckle.

For those getting motorcycles out of the garage after a long winter, be sure to wear your helmet when you get on your bike. While helmets aren’t required by law in Wyoming for those over the age of 18, that doesn’t mean they’re unnecessary. Helmets are 41 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries for motorcycle passengers, and 37 percent for drivers, according to the National Safety Council.

With more motorcyclists on the highway as the weather warms up, it’s also important for other drivers on the road to do their part and watch for motorcycles.

“When motorcycles and other vehicles collide, it is usually the other (non-motorcycle) driver who violates the motorcyclist’s right of way,” according to a statement from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “There is a continuing need to help other motorists ‘think’ motorcycles and to educate motorcyclists to be aware of this problem.”

As the school year wraps up and summer soon begins, it’s a great time to hit the road and enjoy all the recreational opportunities surrounding us. Whether your travel plans take you into the mountains, across the state or just down the road, be sure to pay attention, buckle up and drive safely. Your life — and the lives of others on the highway — may depend on it.

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