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As more die on highways, Ohio's D+ nothing to cheer



Published: Wed, May 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Without a primary seat-belt law, the state of Ohio ranks in the bottom 35 percent of states on a first-ever nationwide report card on vehicle occupant protection undertaken by the National Safety Council. And without such a law that allows motorists to be stopped and ticketed for failure to be safely buckled up, more Ohioans -- particularly teen-agers and minorities -- are at greater risk of dying or suffering serious injuries in automobile crashes.

Most industrialized nations use seat belts more than the United States. In our neighbor to the north, Canada, 92 percent of drivers and passengers wear seat belts. In the United States, only California, with a compliance rate of 89 percent, comes close.

Below average: And in Ohio, only 65 percent buckle up regularly. The legislature's refusal to pass a primary-seat belt law -- we have among the 13 worst laws in the nation -- is no longer conscionable. Traffic crashes continue to be the leading cause of death among children, whose lives could have been saved if only they had been safely buckled in a car seat or safety belt.

We've heard all the arguments of those who somehow see the required use of seat belts as an unwarranted intrusion into their private lives. From that standpoint, being required to have a driver's license would also be considered a government intrusion into the private lives of those who don't see the need to obey silly rules imposed by "the government." But we wouldn't buy that, either.

The fact is that society has a legitimate interest in public safety. That's why we don't want drunken drivers on the road. That's why our elected representatives have passed laws that require us to stop at stop signs and red lights. That's why we prohibit excessive speed.

And that's why other nations and other states have enacted seat belt laws -- for the safety of the driving public and their passengers.

Minorities: Although members of minority groups are disproportionately represented among those who neither use seat belts not car seats for their children, primary enforcement laws have been opposed by black elected officials who fear that such laws will encourage racial profiling.

Thus, among its recommendations the National Safety Council calls on states to "ensure implementation of effective diversity strategies and professional enforcement practices that will eliminate incidents of racial profiling, encourage confidence in traffic stops, and achieve high safety belt use in diverse communities."

Even in states with only secondary laws like Ohio's, the safety council has found that highly visible and effective enforcement programs, supported by coordinated paid advertising and news coverage, informing the public about the enforcement activities can encourage the seat belt habit.

But as the report notes, "The only proven way to significantly increase belt use is through strong and well-enforced laws." Sometimes, a ticket and a fine are the only ways to get the message across.




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