Seat belts save lives

December 22, 1993

It seems so elemental it shouldn't bear a reminder: People cannot fly.

Motorists who are thrown from a vehicle in a crash are four times more likely to be killed than if they had remained within the car. Fortunately, millions of people have taken that fact to heart as seat belt use in the country has swelled -- especially in Maryland, which last year led the continental United States in seat-belt compliance.

But folks who need a refresher on the importance of seat belts, shoulder harnesses or child safety seats should look no farther than the recent headline news involving two athletes.

Bobby Hurley, who gained national prominence while playing basketball for Duke University, and who had gone on to the pros this fall, was seriously injured last week when his truck was hit broadside by a vehicle near Sacramento, Calif. He wasn't wearing a seat belt, was thrown into a ditch on impact and wound up with severe lung injuries, broken ribs and other bones.

Also last week, a lesser-known football player in Houston, Jeff Alm, fatally shot himself after watching a lifelong friend plunge 20 feet to his death after the car in which they were riding struck a guardrail. The friend also was not wearing his seat belt. One doesn't have to scan the sports headlines to find such tragedies, however. They're inside the newspaper all the time: A White Marsh pipefitterwas killed in Baltimore County three weeks ago when his car flipped over. A Union Bridge woman died four weeks ago from injuries sustained in a traffic accident. Neither was wearing a seat belt, police said.

What could justify failing to take action that could save your life, especially when it's as simple as slipping a belt into place? There's nothing complicated about this. Picture walking into a wall at 3 or 4 mph. It would hurt. Picture running into that wall at 15 mph. You might even break some bones. Now picture that crash at 60 mph.

Need more convincing? In a mere 35 mph collision, an 180-pound person hits the ground with a force greater than 3,600 pounds -- about the weight of a rhino. Crash dummies are designed for that; human bodies are not. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 20,000 lives were saved from 1983 to 1989 because three-quarters of the country, including Maryland, began adopting seat belt laws. Frankly, though, the threat of a fine should be the least of your reasons for wearing a seat belt.

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