We’ve all heard the talk about making Oklahoma a Top 10 state.

That was one of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s points he made during his successful run for governor.

The following statistic, though, wasn’t what we believe he meant. According to officials, Oklahoma is No. 1 at something: We are the worst at protecting children in car crashes. Now, in our state the No. 1 cause of unintentional deaths for those ages 5 to 19 is motor vehicle accidents.

Part of that could be traced to the lack of a law requiring children 8 and older to be buckled up while riding in the back seat of a vehicle. Oklahoma used to have such a law, but it was repealed in 2016.

Take a look at these statistics: In 2017 and 2018 more than 24 unrestrained children died in Oklahoma crashes, according to Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. In the past five years, 1,070 children between the ages of 8 and 17 have been killed or seriously injured in wrecks statewide.

During a recent rally held by a bipartisan group of safety advocates at the state Capitol, Caroline Skaggs, a senior at Latta High School near Ada and state president for Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, told those attending Oklahoma is the only state without a law requiring children 8 and older to buckle up while riding in the back seat.

John Skully, commissioner of Department of Public Safety, said it’s unacceptable the state doesn’t have a law protecting its most vulnerable residents.

“We want to be Top 10 in Oklahoma,” Skully said. “But we don’t want to be the Top 10 in the worst category, and that is in the number of deaths of children involving crashes in vehicles.”

The safety coalition has been lobbying lawmakers to change the situation. However, legislators have told them voters oppose seat belt mandates for children.

We can’t imagine why anyone would be against seat belts, especially people with children.

Medical professionals know the dangers, because they see the results.

Dr. Jeremy Johnson, a pediatric trauma physician at The Children’s Hospital, said the evidence is overwhelming.

“The data from the medical literature is pretty clear,” he said. “In a motor vehicle collision, an unrestrained child is more likely to have a higher proportion of injuries, be more severely injured, have a longer hospital length of stay, have greater risk of mortality and is more likely to be discharged with an impairment.”

We hope in the upcoming legislative session, which will begin in February 2020, lawmakers will actually legislate, and not pander to voters, and do what is right. The state needs a seat belt law for children.

This time, it really is a matter of life and death.

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