Seatbelt usage rises dramatically in Mississippi

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Carol Messer enjoys a morning cup of coffee with a friend, warming her hands on a chilly morning. When it's time to leave, buckling up comes naturally to her. Carol said one word explains her reason for doing so.

"Safety. The importance of wearing a seatbelt and the safety issues, especially in a crash, and I think it's important," Messer said.

And she isn't alone. In Mississippi, seat belt usage has shot up 19 percent in the past nine years.

Lt. Bucky Harris heads up the traffic division for the Ocean Springs Police Department.  He has a theory about the dramatic rise.

"The message is getting out that seatbelts save lives," Harris said. "From 1978 to 2007, NITSA has shown that 68 percent of lives have been saved by seatbelt usage."

That message includes public service announcements like Click it or Ticket, and police roadblocks.

Glen Buckalew never needed to hear that message. He developed the habit early on.

"Every time I get in my car, the first thing I do is buckle my seatbelt just for safety purposes," Buckalew said.  "I feel like not only is it important for me, but it's important for my family. So we encourage our children to do the same."

Different people have different reasons for wearing seatbelts. For some, their motivation may be a painful lesson learned earlier in life.

Those memories come back to Marty Paulson as he fills up his car for the trip back home.

"I had a friend whose mother and dad were both killed on an icy road because they didn't have their belts on and it threw them out the side door and they were killed," Paulson said.

And those types of tragedies could all but disappear as more of us buckle up behind the wheel.

Wearing a seatbelt is now a primary state law in Mississippi, and drivers can be pulled over for not buckling up, even without any other traffic violation.  The fine for breaking the law is $25.

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