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posted: 9/29/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: A tragic reminder to use your seat belt

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Many questions remain unanswered in the tragic early-morning rollover of a Ford Explorer off the Eisenhower Extension in Addison on Thursday, but one thing is apparent: Seat belts likely would have minimized the injuries and probably saved lives.

Four of the passengers in the SUV died in the crash, and the three others as well as the driver were hospitalized with significant injuries.

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Six of the eight people in the vehicle were traveling without buckling their seat belts, according to police. Three of those six were killed, apparently thrown during the crash.

Would they have survived had they been using their seat belts? It's impossible to say with absolute certainty. The passenger in the front seat, after all, died despite using hers. But their odds of survival would have been much higher.

For their loved ones, that haunting question always will hang poignantly in the air. It's much like the added pain of realizing that someone who died in a house fire had a working smoke detector without a battery in it.

Today's baby boomers grew up in an era before seat belts, at a time when no one thought twice about sliding into the back bench seat without any real security.

When seat belts were introduced, first in the front seats, later in the backs, they met with considerable resistance. People hate change, and despite statistics to the contrary, some would try to argue that they were safer without the seat belts than they were with them.

It took changes in the laws to finally force the changes in behavior.

Today, Illinois is one of the nation's leaders in seat belt use. We're not at the top, but we're in the top 10, and it's not just because we're smart (although we are). It's mainly because we've got tough laws, tough enforcement and a consistent statewide campaign that reinforces the message to "Click it or ticket."

Most of us, of course, have gotten used to using seat belts. When we do, we feel in better control of our safety, and with good reason because we are, in fact, safer.

But there still remains about 10 percent of the state's population that doesn't use seat belts.

Statistics show seat belt use is lowest among young drivers, according to the National Safety Council.

The council also reports that males are less apt to use seat belts than females, blacks are less apt to use them than those of other races and drivers with no one else in the car are less apt to buckle up than drivers with passengers.

Statistics also indicate that, as was the case in Thursday's crash, occupants in back seats are less likely to use seat belts than occupants in front seats.

We've come a long way in Illinois to increase traffic safety through the use of seat belts. But Thursday's crash should serve as a reminder of just how important seat belts are.

Use it to remind yourself. And to remind everyone you love. To remind everyone you know, in fact.

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