Kids should wear seat belts 'whole ride, every time'

Posted4/18/2015 7:00 AM

He threw her under the bus. Figuratively, but still.

I was asking the 17-year-old if he wore his seat belt every time he drove or rode in a car and the teen seemed surprised and said, "Of course!"He then cheerfully volunteered, "But my mom doesn't always wear one, and she's even been pulled over and ticketed!"


I commended the young man on his own good sense, and due to the confidentiality of the pediatric "confessional," did not let mom know that her son had just ratted her out.

Another high schooler, a well-spoken honors student, answered my seat belt question somewhat sheepishly but honestly, saying that she clicked hers about 90 percent of the time.

I encouraged her to bump up her use to 100 percent since wearing a seat belt on some trips but not others is a little like having homeowner's insurance on some days but not others. You can't really predict when trouble will hit home or just when a seat belt will be needed to save your life.

The little guys get asked the seat belt question too, and one friendly second-grader said he didn't always wear his. Dad was quick to explain that seat belts were the family rule, but sometimes they let it slide for quick trips to visit a little buddy down the street. I gently pointed out that seat belts are still needed in the neighborhood since a good percentage of car accidents occur close to home, when the driver is more at ease and less alert.

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If most of the pediatric patients I ask are being truthful -- and these three stories show that kids often hold nothing back in the exam room -- it appears many young people are doing a decent job with seat belt use.

But, there's definitely room for improvement, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2012, about 55 percent of teens (13-20 years of age) who lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes were not wearing belts at the time of impact.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, noting that nearly half of 8- to 14-year-olds killed in crashes were also not belted in, has launched a nationwide advertising campaign urging parents of tweens to "Never give up until they buckle up," and promoting seat belts "Whole ride, every time."

The traffic safety group also debunks the idea that shorter or slower speed trips are less risky. Referring to common, routine trips as "deceptively dangerous," the NHTSA cites studies showing that a majority of fatal motor vehicle crashes occur within 25 miles of home and at speeds under 40 mph.


Since kids are less likely to wear seat belts when supervising adults don't use them, the NHTSA advises parents and caregivers to always model safe driving/riding behavior by always buckling up.

Cellphone use in cars is a whole 'nother topic in itself, but let's add here that parental car cellphone use can affect teen driving behavior as well. In its 2014 document "Teens in Cars," the organization Safe Kids Worldwide finds that about 60 percent of teens report that they've ridden in a vehicle with a parent who was talking on a phone while driving. Another 28 percent of teens have traveled with a parent who was described as texting behind the wheel.

With seat belts not only readily available in all cars in the U.S., but also helping to reduce passenger fatalities by an impressive rate (45 percent decrease for front seat passengers), Safe Kids dubs buckling up, "one of the easiest and most effective ways to stay safe as a driver or passenger."

In another positive closing note, the CDC just published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report which reveals a 55 percent drop in the number of high school-age drivers involved in fatal passenger vehicle crashes over a recent 10-year period.

This substantial decrease in fatal teen crashes is thought to be due to a combination of factors including implementation of graduated driver licensing programs, production of safer motor vehicles, and the growing trend of teens to wait longer to get licensed and then drive less after obtaining a license.

• Dr. Helen Minciotti is a mother of five and a pediatrician with a practice in Schaumburg. She formerly chaired the Department of Pediatrics at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights

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