The Yurok Tribal Council recently passed a vehicle ordinance that includes the adoption of California’s primary seat belt and child safety seat laws on the Yurok Reservation.
The seventh California tribe to embrace these laws, the Yurok Tribe critically needed a means to address the high rate of motor vehicle crash-related injuries and fatalities that occur on and near the Yurok Reservation, the tribe said in a press release.
Adoption of the law empowers tribal police officers to enforce seat belt and child safety seat laws on the reservation, which was not previously being done.
There is often confusion over agency jurisdiction for patrolling on tribal lands, which can reduce regular patrolling on tribal lands by city, county or state law enforcement and lead to low seat belt and child safety seat use, the tribe said.
According to data collected by the California Rural Indian Health Board’s Injury Prevention Program in 2011–12, the seat belt use rate on the Yurok Reservation is 75.2 percent, more than 20 percentage points lower than the state rate of 96.2 percent. The child safety seat use rate is even more alarming at 53 percent, more than 40 percentage points lower than California’s rate of 94.4 percent, the tribe said.
The reservation averages well over 100 motor vehicle crashes a year, and nearly half of these result in injury or death, the tribe said.
The CRIHB Injury Prevention Program, together with the Yurok Tribal Police Department, was awarded a four-year grant (2010–2014) through the CDC. The project, titled “Buckle up Yurok,” encourages seat belt and child restraint use on the Yurok Reservation.
Activities of this program include child passenger safety training, child safety seat distribution, and advocating for legislation for primary seat belt and child safety seat laws.
During the first two years of the project, CRIHB staff worked with the Yurok Tribal Police Department to encourage community support for the recently passed vehicle ordinance.
Moving forward, the “Buckle Up Yurok” staff and the tribal police are collaborating to develop a diversion program to implement within the Yurok Tribal Court. This program would offer violators the opportunity to attend a motor vehicle and child passenger safety classes in lieu of fines.