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It bears repeating that seat belts save lives

February 17, 2004|by BILL KOHLER

I know what you're thinking.

"Here he goes again, preaching about stuff that's none of his dang business.

"Couple of months ago mister smartypants newspaper editor was telling me I should wear a helmet when I ride my motorcycle.

"Now this. Who does he think he is?"

Part of our job in the media business is to share information that our readers may not have access to or the means to get.

So just call me the info rider. (Yes, I've seen too many Clint Eastwood westerns.)

My message today is indeed preachy, but important. It's about getting belted each and every time you get into a motor vehicle.

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Seat belts save lives. I know we've all heard it before. Over and over, year after year. We heard it from our parents. We heard it from our driver's ed teachers.

Heck, even a pair of talking dummies spread the word. Some of us listened and learned a lot from those dummies.

Me, I didn't learn for many years. I was young and foolish, reckless and carefree. I was invincible.

Then I started covering news instead of sports. Then I went to the scene of several fatal accidents on U.S. 15 near Lewisburg, Pa., and on Wis. 45 near West Bend, Wis. Then I got married, became a father and bought a home.

Reality slapped me upside the noggin.

The belt goes with me at all times: Across the street to Kmart, to work in Hagerstown and to visit friends and family in Wisconsin.

Wearing a seat belt is law in each of our three states of coverage area: Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. So it's not just about choice, it's about getting fined if you don't wear it.

And like the wearing of a helmet when you ride a motorcycle, it's about livin' and dyin'.

We all know the odds. Wear a helmet and bang! Your chances of surviving a bad crash improve dramatically. Wear a seat belt and eureka! Your chances of living improve dramatically after some cell-phone-using, coffee-drinking SUV driver smashes into you.

How about some sobering national stats: According to the National Transportation Safety Board, seat belts are proven to reduce the risk of serious injury or death in a crash by 45 percent. Further, the NTSB said of the 32,519 people killed in crashes on American roads in 2002, nearly 60 percent were not wearing seat belts.

What about some stats that hit closer to home? I started keeping track of police news releases from the Pennsylvania State Police barrack in Chambersburg between Jan. 28 and Feb. 9.

During that time, I collected 19 reports of accidents on Franklin County roads covered by the state police. Of the 19, 18 involved accidents in which the occupants were wearing seat belts. About one-quarter of the occupants sustained minor injuries. The rest were uninjured. In nearly all cases, their vehicles were heavily damaged.

The other report involved a Chambersburg man who struck a utility pole after losing control of his car on ice-covered U.S. 30 near St. Thomas, Pa. He was not wearing a seat belt and he suffered severe injuries.

These numbers are more important because they are local people. They are teenage sons and daughters, our parents, grandparents and neighbors. They are our teachers, our mail carriers, our dentists and our co-workers.

After reading the details of the 19 reports, I am comfortable saying some of these family members, neighbors and co-workers could have been killed or seriously injured had they not been wearing seat belts.

The crashes didn't just happen on interstates, either. They occurred on busy roads like Interstate 81, U.S. 30, U.S. 11 and Pa. 16 and less-traveled roads like Lawyers Road in Hamilton Township and Findley Road in Montgomery Township.

So get beyond my preaching, wouldya? Get belted before you head to work this morning and try, try, try to make it a habit.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Morning Herald. Reach him at 1-800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com.

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