Back when seat belts - simply lap belts, really, like those on commercial airliners - first became common in American motor vehicles half a century or so ago, they were something of an oddity. Millions of Americans simply ignored them, occasionally with tragic results.
Then, over the years, their use became second-nature, part of the ritual of starting the car and putting the engine in gear. Eventually, it became the law. Failure to buckle up could bring a fine.
So it was somewhat surprising to read an Associated Press story the other day in The Blade making much of the fact that seat-belt use by Americans had reached an all-time high of 80 percent compliance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Increases were noted in 37 states.
We say surprising because we would have guessed that compliance was much higher than 80 percent. We would have assumed that a national culture of seat-belt safety had convinced all but a few careless and reckless among us of the foolishness of flying through the front windshield, something which never has a happy outcome.
We would have assumed wrong.
Here in Ohio, in fact, seat-belt compliance declined, from 74.7 percent last year to 74.1 percent, perhaps a reflection of state law which requires a motorist to be stopped for some other moving violation before the seat-belt law applies.
Michigan, we should note, did much better. Usage rose from 84.8 percent to 90.5 percent.
It's astonishing, if correct, that one in four Ohio drivers and passengers still are not buckling themselves in. But for once, Ohio does not rank at the bottom. Mississippi has the lowest rate of seat-belt compliance in America, at 63.2 percent. Massachusetts, Arkansas, and South Carolina were also below 65 percent.
Why can't the reluctant folks be persuaded that clicking the seat belt takes only a second but recovering from an accident can take forever?
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