Aug. 31—Kelsie Quale still feels shaken by the crash that wreaked havoc on her car and ended in a fatality last May, feeling lucky she and her son made it out with only minor injuries.
"I didn't want to do this today because it's stressful, but I know how important it is," Quale said.
Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson and Capt. Jean Cemensky presented Quale and her 15-month-old son, Barrett, with Saved by the Belt awards Wednesday at the Mankato district patrol office. Cemensky said Quale's decision to fasten both Barrett's and her own seat belt was a life-saving one.
Quale, of Waterville, was driving on Highway 60 near Elysian, running late to her teaching job in Madison Lake, when an impaired driver struck her SUV head-on. The other driver, Jared Jones, 49, of Medford, died of injuries sustained in the crash.
She said, coincidentally, the morning of the crash she had thought twice about whether to take the extra time to secure her and her son's seatbelts.
"I knew it was worth it to take the extra couple minutes to make sure (Barrett) was properly buckled, and that was, of course, the day that we got hit," Quale said. "It might seem silly or like a waste of time, but it's not when you're that one person that gets in an accident. You never know."
For the second year in a row, the number of fatalities of unbelted drivers has risen, with 108 fatalities in 2021 and 105 in 2020.
"If they were unbelted, more than likely, they wouldn't have walked away from this crash," Christianson said. "We want to continue to educate people and then let them know that we are going to enforce belts and child restraints."
Christianson said even though over 93% of Minnesota motorists buckle up, 30% of those killed in crashes aren't belted.
The problem is particularly serious in rural parts of the state. Last year, 77% of fatalities of unbelted drivers or passengers were in Greater Minnesota.
"People sometimes think, 'I'm just gonna go to town and or I'm just gonna go make this short little trip,'" Cemensky said. "Most accidents happen very close to home. So it is very important to when you get in a car, get in the habit of wearing it."
Due to her injuries, which include a liver laceration, three fractured ribs and multiple broken hand bones, Quale does not plan to return to work until October at the earliest. Barrett was bruised in the crash but suffered no internal injuries.
Quale has to drive past the site of the crash at least once per week, which she said still often feels traumatic.
"When I'm by myself, I don't really care," Quale said. "It's when I have other people in the car with me. I picture it happening to them and how I would feel. But I'm doing better."
Christianson said that as snow season approaches, it's especially important to promote buckling up, as crashes typically increase in the winter. He also stressed that police will continue to enforce ticketing those who both lack a seat belt and those who fail to fasten it correctly.
"We do see people who don't believe in seat belts wearing them improperly," Christianson said. "A lot of people think it's hard to see if somebody has a seatbelt on, but it's actually really easy ... I'd look for a contrast between the color of the seatbelt and the colored shirt and you can also see it hanging down if it's not on properly."