By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor
WAILUKU, Maui If you need any more proof that seat belts save lives, talk to Lt. Charles Hirata of the Maui Police Department.
Hirata, commander of the departments traffic section, has compiled statistics showing that 12 of the 17 people who died in automobile wrecks last year in Maui County were not wearing seat belts.
"It doesnt cost anything to use them, and it only takes two seconds to put them on, so whats the reason not to wear them?" Hirata said.
Of the nine people between ages 16 and 30 who died in auto crashes on Maui last year, none was wearing seat belts. Hirata is convinced that many of those who died might be alive if they had buckled up.
Twenty-one fatal crashes occurred in Maui County last year, resulting in 25 deaths. In addition to the 17 victims of motor vehicle wrecks, four pedestrians were killed, along with a motorcyclist, two mo-ped riders and a bicyclist. All but one of the fatalities occurred on Maui; Molokai had one traffic death last year, Lanai none.
The totals are too small to provide meaningful analysis, so its difficult to explain increases or decreases from year to year. Although last years figure was 36 percent higher than the 16 traffic fatalities in 1999, the number has fluctuated over the course of the past decade.
Hirata also estimated that only a quarter of the 25 traffic deaths were related to drunken driving, compared with nearly 50 percent typically. Because of labor shortages in the Maui Police Department, the number of drunken driving arrests fell last year to 436 by the end of November, compared with 816 for all of 1999.
Six of the 25 deaths occurred in April, including a single-car crash in Kahului in which four visiting cruise ship workers were killed. Five occurred in November.
Of the four pedestrian fatalities, two involved boys aged 3. In one case a Lahaina youngster was struck and killed while running to an ice cream truck in his neighborhood. In the other, a boy was hit by a car while playing in the street in front of his Wailuku home. The other two cases involved elderly pedestrians aged 78 and 85.
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