COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In June, with the summer still ahead of them, the Engebrecths hit the road for a family camping trip.
They took their Dodge pickup, pulling the camping trailer behind them. It was a smooth ride until they approached La Junta on Highway 50.
“There was someone passing us on the right shoulder of the road,” Lauren Engebrecth said. “She lost control and hit our trailer, which caused us to roll.”
The truck rolled off the side of the road. The top of the cab crushed in, onto their heads. The next thing Engebrecth remembers is people coming to help.
“My son and my husband were on the driver’s side, so they were laying on the ground,” Engebrecht said. “[My daughters] Colby and Harley and I were on my side, so we were hanging from our seat belts.”
The youngest daughter suffered a fractured elbow, and her dad is still recovering from spinal fractures.
Engebrecth said her husband is finally getting back to half-day shifts at work. It’s a relief for him, she said, because he’s a guy who always needs something to do.
In her mind, there’s one thing that saved them.
“We are living proof that you do survive wearing your seat belts,” Engebrecht said. “It’s important. I mean, you think about in all of this, what could have been. My kids were in the car. I could have been left without one of my kids or left without my husband, or they could have been left without a mother.”
Colorado’s seat belt use lags, compared to the rest of the country. Nationwide, 90% of people report using a seat belt. That number drops to 85% in Colorado and 86% in El Paso County.
In state, nearly half of fatal crashes have some driving or riding without a seat belt. The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates 70 lives would have been saved had restraints been used.
“It’s tough to know that something you could have prevented in just a couple of seconds could save a life,” El Paso County Undersheriff Pete Carey said.
Seat belt use by the numbers in rural Colorado is even worse. Many counties report use at just around 75%. In Cheyenne County, only 65 percent of people say they regularly buckle up.
Half of Colorado’s fatal crashes in 2017 happened in rural areas. In more 57% of those crashes, someone was not wearing a seat belt.
Carey, who has decades of law enforcement experience, says traffic crashes have always been the hardest scenes to work.
“Walking up to that car with severe damage and saying your prayer and doing what you can to make sure there are survivors and they can get help,” Carey said. “When you walk up to a car with severe damage and you look inside and everybody is restrained and they get out and [can be] walking around in 15-20 minutes. On the other hand, I’ve seen cars with moderate or little damage and people don’t have seat belts on, they end up going to the hospital and some even die.”
This week, CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol will have more troopers looking for drivers without a seat belt. All children younger than 16 must be restrained properly (younger children need car seats), anyone in a car with a driver younger than 18 needs a seat belt, and any adult in the front seat of a car is required to wear a seat belt under Colorado law.
Carey said it’s all about awareness and education.