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Seatbelt Rant by Dustin Webster

Near death...two ladies rolled a UTV right next to our camp today.

The UTV tumbled multiple times, ejecting the first woman on the first roll...she got spat out straight down and the 1500 lbs of steel tumbled on without her. As the roll continued the car took a wild bounce about 10 feet in the air and spat the second woman straight up...she was at least 15 feet up. Many in our camp saw the whole thing coming and time went into slow motion as their bodies slammed into the dirt. The first woman was beat up pretty badly and may have had a hip or leg injury or break, plus a possible back injury...the second was much worse.

We called 911, stayed with them and kept them both stable and as comfortable as possible. One of our crew was an EMT and he cared for the woman who was worse off, while Becca tended to the other woman. About 5 minutes in, the two womens’ families arrived from their camp. They had seen a buggy flip but didn't know it was theirs. Recognizing what had happened, they were instantly overwhelmed and didn't know what to do…we held things together for them.

Our buddy Josh drove to the main highway to guide in the emergency services.  It took about 30 minutes to arrive on scene as the dry lakebed of the hammer trails is in the middle of nowhere. The rescue crew made the decision to call life flight for the lady who was worse off, while the first woman was taken by ambulance. The young sons of each of the women were there. Though they were being as brave as they could, they eventually broke down, devastated by what they were seeing and experiencing. Becca and I took time with them as their families didn't recognize they were hurting, or didn't know how to help them deal with the pain. We explained how they were helping their mothers get through a life threatening situation and with their bravery, they had helped keep the injured women calm, plus helped communicate with the emergency services so the medical team could do their best to help the moms. We told the boys that they were on an adrenaline rush while it was all going down, but like being involved in an intense sports game, when the adrenaline wears off you are emotionally vulnerable. We told them things would be OK and they should recognize that they showed great maturity in how they handled themselves...but still, it is OK to cry or just go ask someone for a hug.

Also, there were many in our group that were taking the crash pretty hard. Anger, sadness, fear, helplessness, and more were emotions that I recognized in the faces and actions of our group. In their bravery in helping or just being a witness, people were affected in many ways.

I have gone into great detail about this incident for a reason. I have lived the life of an extreme OHV enthusiast. I have rolled dozens of times...I have watched my wife roll lots of times. Both of us have destroyed the very cars we were driving in. Never once were we injured. In the same breath, we have lost many friends over the years, just as we witnessed these two women lucky to be alive today...IF the life-flighted woman survived, which we still have not heard.

I address this entire thing because the difference between the hard rolls that Becca and I have taken, compared to the one we watched today as well as the ones that took the lives of our friends, is that we have ALWAYS worn our seat belts...not just a lap belt, but FULL harness. Over a decade ago we chose to belt up whenever the vehicle would be put in drive... even if we were simply pulling up onto a trailer. It only takes a second.

Today's crash was supposed to be a simple drive to go help someone from their camp who was stuck. One of the husbands said their wives were just planning on driving slowly a couple hundred yards to go help a stuck bike, then come straight back...slowly. They never made it back. Other friends were just doing stuff like taking a quick test drive and NOT going to go more than a couple MPH...on a whim they punched the gas because it felt right and seconds later were waiting on a coroner to come get them. Another was just going from one camp to biggie, it's only a hundred yards...lemme just put my lap belt thing you know, he is peeling out, the rig flips on its side and his head is smashed between the ground and the rollbar...oh boy, more work for the coroner.

I am sad and angry at these losses. EVERY ONE of their vehicles held up just fine in their accidents...every one of them could have been righted and driven away with the occupants unharmed had they only worn their full safety harnesses. I used to say it was Darwin...but knowing enough of them, I now realize it is simply human nature. They knew in advance they would not be at risk so chose not to buckle up...then things changed and they forgot they were not belted.

This is a simple reminder and call out to everyone who off roads. PLEASE, full harness EVERY time NO MATTER YOUR PLANS. Helmet too if you are leaving camp to go play rough.


Now that I got the hard message across, here is a lil PSA on off-road seatbelts. There is stuff missing but this should be a bit of food for thought for you to consider.

Whether you drive fast or slow, if you are offroading, you really should have a quality racing harness with 4 points or more. Got one?  Great, now how do you put it on after jumping into the seat to take a ride?  Many wear a harness, but don't know how to properly tighten it so here are a few tips we learned in our years of competition. They apply equally to the trail or to driving any kind of UTV / Side x Side.

First off, the main buckle needs to be dead center in your lap because if you are hanging upside down the buckle will still open...a few degrees off to the left or right and it can jam due to binding.

Always tighten lap belt first, then shoulders. Doing it the other way can cause an extreme amount of force on your spine in a roll. The lap belt holds you down, the shoulder straps keep your shoulders from moving forward.  If your shoulder belts are what is holding you down, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

If belts are loosening as you drive, don't just keep tightening the shoulder straps....stop and retighten the entire setup the proper way. If they continue to loosen over time, it may be your mounting angles and you need to pull them out and figure a new way to mount.

Let me throw a huge point on the last paragraphs about the lap belt holding you to the seat...a good buddy of mine found out the hard way about how critical this part is...not due to spine, but due to the fact that he had tightened his shoulder belts over a number of miles of a race to hold him down as the lap belt loosened from the bumping and jarring. Remember above where I said the main buckle can jam if not in good alignment? It is far worse of a jam if the belt is pulled upward by the shoulder harnesses. All of the sudden this friend had a mild rollover and found himself upside down with his buggy engulfed in flames.  He was helpless with his buckle fully jammed because the constant tightening of the shoulder harnesses while driving had caused the buckle to ride up away from his lap and be tweaked into a slight V-shape.  That particular position COMPLETELY locked the buckle.  Even though he was a strong man and had extra power due to an extreme adrenaline rush, he could NOT get the buckle undone. Thank God for a hero named Joe Bunker.  He arrived at the burning buggy, tried the buckle and realized it was jammed, then dug out his knife and saved Ken's life just in time...that buggy was GONE in just a minute!  Over half a decade later I can still smell the smoke and see the flames in my mind...again, if you feel like your belts are loosening as you drive, DO NOT keep tightening your shoulders. Lap belt first!

Next, if there is any deviation in the belt caused by the holes in the seat not lining up with the mount and the point where the belt first contacts your body, you need to change your mounts as that causes the belts to get longer in a rollover when the seat foam is flexed and that deviated line now becomes straight. Put another way, the belt should go straight from the mount to your body without the seat causing a bend.

For belts, I really recommend spending a little more and getting the double cam levers and/or ratchets for tightening and holding. They have a positive hold on the belt compared to the friction binding mechanism of most belts.

There is more...much more, but this is to simply get a discussion going and get you thinking about your own safety. If you get in a crash and are injured, it is not just you that is affected. Take safety it right.


Written by: Dustin Webster


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