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Encouraging news on seat belt usage

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says seat belt use in the United States is at almost 80 percent. That exceeds the expectations of the experts, and it is encouraging news.

Almost 20 years ago, seat belt usage was at about 14 percent. We've certainly come a long way.

The increase in buckling up can probably be attributed to several things: State laws mandating usage; public service campaigns; personal experience.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws in which police can stop a car if the occupants are not buckled up. West Virginia police can only ticket drivers for not wearing seat belts if they are stopped for other offenses.

Law enforcement officials made a big push nationwide in May with its "Click It Or Ticket" campaign, which urged everyone to use seat belts.

As for personal experience, many of us have probably changed our attitudes about seat belts after being involved in wrecks or knowing someone who had.

The NHTSA estimates that as many as 1,000 people a year will live because they used seat belts. Buckling up also saves an estimated $3.2 billion in health care costs. In a sense, using a seat belt is preventive medicine.

Of course, there is more work to do. The United States lags behind other countries in seat belt use. And there are certain parts of the country -- the Midwest and the Northeast -- that need to encourage more people to buckle up.

Public opinion appears to be changing on this issue, and that's a good sign.

James Logue