The National District Attorneys Association has named Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst to its board of directors as a vice president and member of its executive committee.
“Pabst was chosen because of her leadership and long-standing commitment to criminal justice reforms and prosecutor well-being initiatives,” said NDAA President Nancy Parr. “We welcome her expertise and look forward to working with her.”
“It’s an honor to be chosen to work with such dedicated leaders,” Pabst said. “Criminal justice is at a crossroads on so many levels — racial inequality, gender inequality, mass incarceration – and it is exciting to be in a position to effect positive policy changes, not just at the local and state level, but nationally.”
Pabst has served as county attorney since 2015. She started her career as a prosecutor 25 years ago and has worked with the NDAA as a trial instructor for the past 20 years.
Formed in 1950, NDAA is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country. With more than 5,000 members representing more than two-thirds of the state and local prosecutors’ offices, NDAA is recognized as the leading source of national expertise on the prosecution function and is a valuable resource for the media, academia, government and community leaders. NDAA’s mission is to provide state and local prosecutors with the knowledge, skills and support they need to ensure that justice is done and that public safety rights are protected.
Pabst will also chair NDAA’s new Prosecutor Wellbeing Task Force, designed to develop and disseminate resources, training and peer-to-peer exchanges for prosecutors around the country to promote their health and well-being.
The results are in: After observing more than 5,000 vehicles in Missoula, officials with the Missoula City-County Health Department report that they saw about 92% of occupants wearing their seatbelts.
Steve Schmidt, senior community health specialist and Buckle Up Montana coalition coordinator for Missoula County, spent a week observing vehicles at 11 different locations in Missoula at the end of September. He says that of the 5,262 vehicles he saw, he observed 4,844 with occupants wearing their seatbelts.
This is up significantly from the 2018 survey, when only about 76% of Missoulians were observed wearing seatbelts. In 2017, the rate was 81%. This year also saw a considerable increase in seatbelt use among pickup truck occupants, from about 71% in 2018 to 86% in 2019.
Though 8% of Missoulians are still not wearing seatbelts, today’s numbers stand in stark contrast to those collected in 1987, when only 34% of vehicle occupants were observed wearing seatbelts, a spike apparently so dramatic for that year that it prompted the surveyor to draw a smiley face on the report.
So why are 8% of Missoulians still not wearing their seatbelts? And why is that rate even higher for pickup truck occupants? Though it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons, Schmidt says a variety of factors could be at play.
“I’ve occasionally come across individuals who have indicated that they have known someone who died in a crash and they were wearing their seatbelt,” he says. The seatbelt doesn’t guarantee survival − it just greatly increases the chances. And when your world is being flipped upside down, I would bet on the numbers.”
Schmidt also says he’s heard that some people who drive larger vehicles, like pickups, feel safer and don’t believe they need seatbelts. That’s why public health officials have focused over the past few years on the “Buckle Up in Your Truck” campaign. He’s happy the rate among pickup occupants is increasing, but there’s still work to do.
“I believe that educating young drivers will have an impact on older drivers,” Schmidt says. “When my kids had their learner’s permits, they actually ensured I was wearing my seatbelt before they moved the vehicle. It was nice to see, and it appears to be more normalized. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘coolness factor’ in play. It’s just what we do.”
The education on seatbelt use also need to evolve, Schmidt says. The “scare tactics” of the past doesn’t seem to be as effective, and he’d like to approach seatbelt use from a different angle.
“For me, it’s about control,” he says. “We all like to be in control, and the best way to stay in control of a vehicle is to remain behind the wheel of that vehicle. A seat belt will help keep you behind the wheel, where you have the ability to control the vehicle.”
Education is just one component of increasing usage. Proactive legislation could also increase the rate. Montana is currently one of 16 states that does not have a primary seatbelt law, meaning law enforcement cannot stop someone solely for not wearing a seatbelt. They can only cite someone for not wearing a seatbelt if they initially pulled them over on suspicion of another violation.
“States with primary seatbelt laws have a higher percentage of people who wear seatbelts,” Schmidt says. “I’d love to see and work for a primary seatbelt law here in Montana.”
You can learn more about the work the Buckle Up Coalition is doing to increase seatbelt usage by visiting theirwebsite and Facebook page.