Marylanders Wear Seat Belts

December 29, 1992

On some major measures of mortality -- cancer and inner-cit homicides -- Maryland doesn't fare well. But here is one statistic of life and death of which the state can be proud:

Maryland is the leader in the continental United States in seat-belt compliance. And partly as a result of that fact, the state is en route to its lowest total of highway fatalities in nearly two decades.

The lowest number of highway deaths in Maryland, 616, was recorded in 1964. We've had almost two dozen more than that to date with only three days left in the year. But there are also more than twice as many vehicles registered in the state as there were in 1964. Since the mid-'80s, Maryland has commonly rung up 700 or 800 deaths by motor vehicle accident a year.

Part of the credit for this belongs to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, whose drumbeat of admonitions have made many people think twice about driving a vehicle while inebriated. Another dollop of credit is due the State Highway Administration for aggressive seat belt awareness campaigns. Also, police agencies have taken seriously enforcement of the child safety seat and seat belt laws, which were enacted in 1984 and 1986.

Only Hawaii outdoes Maryland in U.S. seat-belt use surveys, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. When Maryland officers stop and survey motorists on seat belt use, 75 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers are wearing them, a higher percentage than in states that have even more punitive seat-belt laws.

The seat-belt campaigns have attempted to shatter the old canard that motorists could more easily escape a crash if they weren't confined by a belt. The fact is people who are unsecured and ejected from a vehicle in a collision are much more likely to be severely or fatally injured. People are not birds. They cannot fly.

And even though many new cars come equipped with air bags, manufacturers caution that seat belts must still be worn to protect the occupant in side impact and rollover crashes, which might not trigger an air bag.

Don't neglect to do something that could save your life for the benefit of possibly three seconds saved. If you don't use a seat belt regularly, try it for a month and it will become a habit. You'll feel uncomfortable without one on.

This is one matter in which we hope you contribute to a highway statistic -- a favorable one for Maryland.

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