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New seat belt law makes sense

A new law will take effect June 9 that will save lives but at the same time cause some grumbles and complaints.

It's Minnesota's new seat belt law. It makes not wearing a seat belt a "primary offense," meaning that law enforcement officers can now stop a driver for not wearing a seat belt and for that reason alone. The law also contains new provisions that require everyone of all ages in every seating position to be buckled up or riding in an approved child passenger safety restraint. The fine for a seat belt offense is the same -- $25, although court costs and added fees can drive up the final damage to $115.

Up until the new law kicks in, officers can't pull someone over for being unbuckled. They have to see another offense first.

We believe the law makes sense. Anything that can be done to make our streets and highways safer with little or no inconvenience is worth it.

Seat belts can save lives and prevent serious injury. Here are some facts from the Minnesota Safety Council:

n Seat belts reduce the risk of serious injury and death by 40 to 60 percent.

n When crash victims are unbuckled, their medical treatment costs are on average, 50 percent higher than those who are securely buckled.

n A seat-belted driver has a better chance of maintaining control of a vehicle during and immediately following a collision, protecting passengers and others on the road.

n If you are in the back seat and not belted, your body becomes a lethal weapon, moving forward with enough force to break the back of someone riding in the front or to cause serious brain injury.

Despite the solid evidence that shows how important seat belts are, the new law is already catching some heat. Some say it's another example of Big Brother chipping away at one's personal liberties. Some firmly believe that wearing a seat belt should be a personal choice, not subject to government controls or criminal penalties.

Those who make such an argument fail to realize that driving was never a right. It is a privilege. And with it comes some responsibility.

This newspaper has reported many traffic deaths over the years -- in too many instances, the victims were not wearing a seat belt.

Between 2006 and 2008 in Douglas County, 21 motorists were killed. Of those 21, five were not wearing their seat belts. And another eight, who were also unbelted, were seriously injured.

The reasons people give for not buckling up are weak. Here are the more common ones, according to a survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

"I'm only driving a short distance (56 percent)."

"I'm driving in light traffic (24 percent)."

"I forgot to put it on (53 percent)."

"I don't want my clothes wrinkled (9 percent)."

"I'm in a rush (40 percent)."

"The possibility of a crash is too low (20 percent)."

"The belt is uncomfortable (37 percent)."

It's time for drivers -- and passengers -- to put away the excuses and put on the seat belt. It's already the law. And starting next week, there's even more incentive to buckle up -- you're more likely to get caught and pay a fine. -- Alexandria Echo Press