WHILE AMERICANS everywhere are looking to their leaders for help in saving kids from gunfire, parents can act effectively right now to protect their children against the top killer of young people in this country. Traffic crashes -- sure to increase as this holiday weekend kicks off the high season of road travel -- take more young lives during the summer than at any other time.
By now almost everybody knows what to do about these dangers. Yet too many adults as well as children still don't buckle up for takeoff down the highways. Friendly reminders help somewhat, but not nearly enough. That is why police all over the country will be on the prowl, stepping up low-to-zero-tolerance enforcement of seat belt laws.
The crackdowns -- with checkpoints, saturation patrols and other measures -- are working: Special enforcement programs last year are said by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to have played a key role in prompting 19 million more people to buckle up. Still, the stats are not nearly good enough; though it is illegal in every state for children to ride unbuckled, six out of 10 children killed in crashes are not properly restrained. For the littlest ones, child safety seats, properly installed, reduce the risk of death by 69 percent for infants and 49 percent for toddlers, according to NHTSA reports.
Only 14 states and the District of Columbia have "primary" laws that allow enforcement officials to stop and ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt when in transit. These areas have seat belt use rates on average that are 17 percent higher than those in states with weaker laws, where seat belt citations may be made only in connection with other traffic violations.
Clearly, the lawmakers could do more to save lives -- and public pressure can make a difference. But no driver or passenger need await official response. Today -- and not just for holidays -- people anywhere can go ahead, take matters into their own hands and click those belts into place.