It has been nearly a decade since Maryland passed its mandatory automobile seat belt law, and by now many of us think about buckling up about as much as breathing. So perhaps it seemed a little silly this week when Anne Arundel County Councilman George F. Bachman of Linthicum got an award for wearing his seat belt.
On May 10, Mr. Bachman was returning from an Arundel council meeting and was almost home when a drunken driver hit his car. Thanks to persistent training by his wife and council aide, Anna, he was wearing a seat belt. Without it, police said, he would have been killed or seriously hurt; they recommended him for a "Saved by the Belt" citation, given by the Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use.
Amazingly, some Marylanders still have to be reminded that the law requires wearing seat belts and that wearing seat belts saves lives. Barbara Beckett of Pasadena, director of the Committee for Safety Belt Use, was thoroughly discouraged after performing safety belt surveys in Baltimore County this week (each year the committee monitors safety belt use at 100 sites all over the state).
Not only did the committee find adult compliance as low as 50 percent in some areas (statewide compliance has ranged between 60 and 70 percent since the law passed), but it found a frightening disregard for child safety laws. The law requires that babies and small children ride in safety seats and that children up to age 10 wear seat belts, even if they are riding in the back seat. The committee found cars with kids piled in the back seat, unbuckled, and with small children riding on an adult's lap.
No less frightening is the movement in Congress to lift the requirements on seat-belt and motorcycle helmet requirements as well as highway speed limits under a misguided notion of "states' rights."
So Mr. Bachman's award isn't that silly after all. His citation isn't intended to honor him so much as to draw attention to someone who is still around because he wore a safety belt. People still need to be reminded they can't rationalize, "I'm only driving down to the corner grocery." Two-thirds of all auto accidents occur within 25 miles of home, and people have died in crashes at 12 mph. Since 1985, police say some 5,300 people are alive and well because of seat belts, who otherwise would be dead or coping with severe injury. That's something to think about if you're one of those who still doesn't buckle up without thinking.