My first job out of law school was with the Adams County Attorney’s office in Hastings, Nebraska. While the courtroom experience was invaluable, the coroner duty was nightmarish (the county attorney also served as the “county coroner”). The task wavered between gruesome and horrific. Especially the car accidents.

Nothing I had ever experienced brought home the point more clearly — if your vehicle crashes, and you’re not buckled up, you will continue traveling at the same rate of speed your vehicle was traveling. Simple physics, I guess. Yet, the result always shocked me. That, and seeing how fragile the human body is when struck while unprotected at 30 to 75 mph. At these speeds, we humans break and tear pretty easily. Sometimes beyond recognition.

Similar physics principles control the outcome in a “roll over”. If unbuckled, nothing but sheer luck will keep you from being thrown out of your vehicle by centrifugal force.

Over the past ten years, more than 1,400 unbelted motor vehicle occupants have lost their lives on Nebraska roadways. Thousands more have incurred serious, life-changing injuries. Research shows that lap and shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat occupants by 45%, and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50%. Curiously, the benefits are even higher for light truck occupants: 60% reduction of death, and 65% reduction of serious injury.

It should come as no surprise that our children are strongly influenced by our seat belt “modeling”. Statistics show that about 40% of children riding with an unbelted driver were themselves unrestrained. A major factor in making car crashes the leading cause of death among children in the U.S.

For those unfortunate injury victims of a crash caused by another’s negligence — the law will penalize you for failing to wear a seatbelt (all front seat passengers are required by Nebraska law to buckle up). Unbuckled, the value of your injury claim is reduced by 5%. One more unnecessary loss for the victim.

Over the years, I’ve not been offended when some passengers grumble when asked to “buckle up.” I just figure — they haven’t seen what I’ve seen. If they had, this simple habit would be completely automatic and mandatory — for their own peace of mind.

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