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Originally Published Here Thanksgiving 1997 - Needless Traffic Deaths Take Center Stage in Holiday Dramatization

25 November 1997

1997 - Needless Traffic Deaths Take Center Stage in Holiday Dramatization

  124 People to Portray Those Predicted to Die Over Thanksgiving Weekend for
                  Failing to Buckle Up; Report Details Costs

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 -- An estimated 124 people will die and
hundreds more will be seriously injured over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday
because of one simple, but catastrophic, choice -- the choice not to buckle
up.  That was the message delivered today by the Air Bag Safety Campaign, as
the group staged an event to dramatize the importance of seat belts in
reducing serious and fatal injuries and saving the nation billions of dollars.
    As many as 84 percent of Americans are expected to drive over the holiday,
making the message to "buckle up" more important than ever.  "Increasing seat
belt use is the single most effective action we can take to save the lives of
children and families on our roadways," said Vice President Al Gore in a taped
    "We've all heard the statistics, we want to show the faces behind the
numbers," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater.  "More than one
person every hour will die over the next four days and hundreds more will be
seriously injured simply because they didn't wear a seat belt."
    Amidst flashing lights and emergency vehicles, the Campaign assembled 124
Americans -- parents, grandparents and children of every race, creed, and
class -- on a street in the nation's capital.
    "There'll be an empty chair at our Thanksgiving table this year," said
Carolyn Hanig, a life flight nurse and mother from Oklahoma.  "My son, Nik,
died because he wasn't wearing a seat belt.  We will never have another
holiday with Nik -- the decision to buckle up seems so minor, but believe me,
it can change your life."
    The Campaign also issued a report, We All Pay ... and It Costs Too Much:
The High Price of Not Buckling Up, starkly summarizing the tremendous costs
the public pays to subsidize the habits of unbelted Americans -- nearly
$14.3 billion annually, in higher taxes and higher medical and insurance
    "Everyone suffers the consequences of unbuckled drivers and passengers,"
said Janet Dewey, Executive Director of the Air Bag Safety Campaign.  "We hope
this demonstration serves as a wake-up call to Americans -- each and every
day, we're paying the price for those who don't buckle up."
    Experts estimate that every American who does buckle up is paying $40 per
year in additional auto insurance premiums alone, because of those who don't
use seat belts.  "The hospital costs for unbelted crash victims are, on
average, 50 percent higher than those for belted victims," said Secretary
Slater, "and society bears 85 percent of the those costs, not the individuals
    "If we could achieve our national goal and increase seat belt use in this
country to 90 percent, we would save more than 5,500 lives and prevent more
than 130,000 injuries, annually," said Dewey.  "What's more, we could also
save the nation nearly $9 billion each year."
    Today, despite decades of public education, national seat belt use stands
at only 68 percent.  According to the Campaign, the only proven way to
increase belt use from its present level, is to support public education with
primary or "standard" enforcement seat belt laws -- laws that allow police to
stop and ticket a driver for being unbelted like any other routine violation,
such as having a broken tail light.
    "My son should have received a $20 ticket, but instead he received the
death penalty," said Hanig.  "I did everything I could to educate my child
about safety, but he, like most teenagers, thought he was invincible -- but he
was wrong.  I believe that the threat of a ticket would have convinced Nik to
buckle up -- it would have saved him."
    Each year, an estimated 8,500 people die in automobile crashes because
they weren't wearing seat belts.  Alarmingly, crash studies indicate that
children's belt use mirrors that of adults.  When a driver is unbuckled,
70 percent of the time children riding in that car are unbuckled, too.
    "Folks who don't buckle up may think that their behavior doesn't affect
anyone also, that seat belt use is a matter of personal freedom," said Dewey,
"but they're wrong.  Adults must remember that their seat belt habits can have
a lethal influence on children.  That is why we need standard adult seat belt
laws to protect children."  Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death
to children under 15.
    "Over the last week, we've heard a lot about air bag safety," added Dewey.
"Virtually all of the people who've died from air bag-related injuries were
either unbuckled or improperly buckled.  Air bags should always be used with
seat belts -- together they are a lifesaving combination."
    According to a survey by Public Opinion Strategies, Americans support
standard enforcement seat belt laws by nearly a two-to-one margin.  Currently,
only 13 states and the District of Columbia have standard enforcement seat
belt laws.
    The Air Bag Safety Campaign is an intensive education and action campaign
by a public/private partnership of automobile manufacturers, insurance
companies, occupant restraint manufacturers, government agencies, health
professionals, and child health and safety organizations.  The goal of the
campaign is to increase the proper use of safety belts and child safety seats
and to inform the public about how to maximize the lifesaving capabilities of
air bags while the minimizing risks.

SOURCE  Air Bag Safety Campaign

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