On Saturday morning, David and his teammates were piling into cars to go to the first softball practice of the season. Even though it was kind of a cold day for practice, the boys and girls on the team were excited. The parents driving them to the field were anxious to get going. "Hurry up," David's dad said to his son as they ran to the car.

But once David, his father, and his two teammates had piled into their car, there was a pause. "Buckle up, kids," David's father said.

David automatically reached for his safety belt. But Liz, one of his friends, said, "Why do we have to buckle up if we're only going a couple of blocks? You're a good driver. Nothing's going to happen on such a short trip."

It would be nice if that were true. But it's not. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that most vehicle crashes happen within 25 miles of home, and at speeds under 40 miles an hour.

"I'm glad you think I'm a good driver," David's father said to Liz. "It's the other people I'm worried about. Please buckle up, and we'll get going."

Liz grumbled, but she snapped her safety belt closed. She wasn't finished arguing, though. "What if we were in a crash and the car caught on fire? What if we fell into a river?" Liz said. "We'd be trapped by these dumb belts."

"Only a tiny, tiny percentage of accidents involve fire or being underwater," David's father explained. And even if either of these do happen, a passenger who had been held in place by a safety belt would be more likely to be able to escape from the car. People who didn't wear the belts might be dazed from hitting their heads on the dashboard or other hard parts inside the car, and would not be able to think fast.

But Liz wasn't ready to give up yet. "If we were in a crash, I'd want to be thrown out of the car so I wouldn't get squished," she said.

David knew the answer to that one. "Yeah, but you'd get thrown out through the windshield, and get really cut up," he said. "I've read that wearing a safety belt makes it half as likely that you'll get hurt in a crash. And half as likely that you'll get killed."

After that, Liz stopped talking for awhile. They drove along toward the softball field in silence. Then suddenly, as David's father pulled out onto a busy road, another car ran through a red light and raced toward them. David's father jammed on the brakes, and his car screeched to a halt. The kids were thrown forward in their seats -- but their safety belts stopped them before they hit anything, and kept them from being thrown onto the floor of the car.

"Whew, that was close," David's father said as he started the car moving again.

Liz was pretty quiet after the near-crash. But as she jumped out of the car to race off to softball practice she said to David's father, "Now I see what you mean."

Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who is in charge of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is especially concerned about teaching young people to always use their safety belts. She has said "I know that you're all looking forward to getting your driver's licenses soon. But driving a car is a big responsibility. Every ten seconds someone is injured in a crash. And every ten minutes, someone is killed. You can expect to be in an accident at least once in your life. If you use your safety belt, you more than double your chances of surviving."

Everyone should wear safety belts while riding in a car -- even if only for a block. If you ride in a car with people who don't use their belts, don't be embarrassed to buckle yours. Don't even feel shy about telling them to buckle up -- even if they're grown up. You could be saving their lives. Tips for Parents

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following safe driving practices to parents.

Wear your seat belt. You are your children's role model. If you drive without a seatbelt your children are very likely to emulate your behavior.

On each trip, no matter how short, make sure infants and children travel in a properly installed seat restraint or seat belt. The rear section of a stationwagon is the cargo area and is not safe for transporting children.

For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt should run across the hip bones and the shoulder belt should come up snugly across the chest. A booster seat may be necessary to raise the child up high enough so that the belt does not cross the neck.

Being thrown from the vehicle increases the chance of dying by 25 times. Locked doors and restraints keep passengers from being thrown to the ground.

Don't speed or use a radar detector in your car. If you flout the law, you can anticipate similar behavior in your children.