Buckling up is still the right thing to do

By M. ERIC WILLIAMS,

Spring is the season in which many students graduate from their respective schools. It is also a particularly busy time for me as I am called upon to speak at various graduation and commencement ceremonies. 

I pride myself on delivering an entertaining but useful speech that gives the listeners something to think about. The basis of my speech is centered around little bits of “life advice” that I have collected over the years. My favorite line comes from East Central Community College President Billy Stewart, who reminded me to “always check the contents of a fast-food bag BEFORE leaving the drive-through window!” That being said, I always encourage graduates to pay special attention to one piece of advice that has been proven by years of research: wear your seatbelt!  

I grew up in a time that seatbelts were encouraged but not mandatory. Gone are the days of a two-year-old crawling around in the back seat of a moving car. Research has proven time and time again that seatbelts can and do save lives. 

From 2003 to 2012, Mississippi had 6,687 occupants killed in motor vehicle accidents. Of these deaths, many of them were unbuckled. Speaking solely on my own experiences, I have never unbuckled a dead body from a collision. Of course, it does happen, but the chances of you surviving an accident are overwhelmingly higher if you take the simple precaution of restraining yourself.

According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, 86 percent of the people in the United States report that they always were a safety belt. Mississippi lags behind this by 3 percent. In other words, 17 percent of the state’s 2.989 million residents do not regularly wear their seatbelts. That might not sound like much, but this means that about half million people in the Hospitality State are taking an unnecessary risk with their lives. 

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for persons age 5-34. We have all heard a story about a neighbor or friend of a friend that was decapitated, drowned, or some other horrendous fate because they were wearing a safety belt. 

However, the statistics are astronomically supportive that seatbelts save lives in virtually all situations.  Furthermore, I guarantee that you have never heard a competent paramedic, firefighter, or law enforcement official advocate against the practice. 

Some critics of seatbelt laws say that the government is overstepping its bounds by requiring your to do a certain thing to protect you from yourself (sort of like helmet laws for motorcycles). While I agree with the premise

of the argument, I also know that if you are seriously injured in a crash (and statistically, you will be if you aren’t wearing a seatbelt) then you will be relying on government-sponsored services such as police, fire, and EMS to render aid. In short, you can’t willfully ignore the rules of society and then expect society to take care of you. As they say, that dog won’t hunt.

In my lifetime, several measures have taken effect to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries due to lack of seatbelts. These have included laws and increased enforcement such as the “Click it or Ticket” campaigns of law enforcement. 

At the end of the day, the solution lies with us: the citizens of Mississippi. Let’s do our part and reduce the number of fatalities in our state. Studies show that males and those between the ages of 21-34 are at the highest risk. Make sure everyone in your car is buckled in and teach children the value of restraints.  The life you save could be your own! 

Stay safe out there.