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With the target being zero deaths on the roads, the nearly 1,000 people killed in 2018 in South Carolina is a horrific toll.

Preliminary numbers from the S.C. Department of Public Safety show 991 people died, two more than were killed in 2017.

Sadly, as was the case in 2017, the preliminary number is likely to increase. SCDPS defines the 2018 total as “preliminary” because reviews of collisions are ongoing, plus some persons in crashes could die from injuries they sustained.

The total continues a deadly trend on South Carolina roads of more than two people a day being killed.

In 2018, pedestrian deaths totaled 150, while 100 motorcyclists and 20 pedalcyclists were killed. Thiry-four deaths were classified as “other.”

For the year, 687 motor-vehicle drivers and passengers died, 25 more than in 2017.

In 2018, 306 of those killed in crashes were wearing seat belts. Some accidents aren’t survivable.

But 349 people were not wearing belts. And it is unknown whether another 31 were belted.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, correct use of safety belts is shown to reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and by 60 percent in pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans.

Conservatively, that means between 150 and 200 of the people killed in motor-vehicle crashes in South Carolina over the past year could be alive today if they had been wearing seat belts.

There are good reasons the NHTSA identifies regular belt use as the single most effective way to protect people and reduce fatalities.

In a motor-vehicle crash, an unbelted occupant actually suffers three crashes:

• Vehicle collision: Vehicle slams into another vehicle or fixed object (guard rail, tree, etc.).

• Body collision: Body slams into other occupants and/or interior of vehicle, or is thrown out of the vehicle through one of the windows.

• Internal collision: Internal body parts slam against each other and/or the body’s skeletal structure, causing internal bleeding.

So who’s not buckling up in the face of good sense and the law?

A 2016 SCDPS observational survey conducted by USC’s Department of Statistics offered insight:

• Women are more likely than men to use safety belts, 95.5 percent compared to 92.5 percent.

• Car occupants are more likely to wear safety belts than truck occupants, 94.5 percent compared to 90.4 percent.

• Rural occupants and urban occupants had similar rates of safety belt usage, 94.2 percent compared to 93.7 percent.

While the numbers to some extent bear out the stereotypes of men in their trucks being less conscious of buckling up, it is clear the vast majority of men see the wisdom in taking the simplest and most effective action to avoid being killed or injured in a crash. And in doing so, they are providing an important example that buckling up is more than just the law. It is smart.

As stated, seat belts are not going to save lives in every crash, but they are your best bet. There is no excuse for not using them.

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