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That nearly 1,000 people were killed in 2018 on South Carolina’s roads is horrific. Already in 2019 (as of Feb. 24), 119 people have died. The only good thing is the toll is 11 less than a year ago at this time.

Sadly, it appears we’re heading toward another year during which an average of more than two people a day will die on the state’s roads.

Resolve to be safer driver in new year

Many things can be done to reduce the toll, most of which involve individuals and a commitment to safety: no impaired driving, no distracted driving, no speeding – and wearing safety belts.

According to preliminary 2018 numbers from the S.C. Department of Public Safety, 306 of the killed in crashes were wearing seat belts. But 349 were not.

And so far in 2019, of the 119 motor vehicle occupants killed, 86 had access to seat belts but 41 were not wearing them.

Deer are big danger on the road

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. So, between 150 and 200 of the people killed last year might be alive today had they been belted when the crash occurred.

In need of more emphasis is the importance of wearing safety belts as back-seat passengers. Doing so is a law that is disobeyed far more often than not wearing belts in the front seat.

According to a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study cited by AAA Carolinas, many adults don’t feel the need to strap on their seat belts while riding in the back seat. Only 72 percent of the 1,172 survey respondents said they always use a belt in the back, compared to 91 percent saying they always use one when seated in front.

Unbelted rear passengers can become human missiles – injuring themselves and the other passengers, even those wearing seat belts.

“You should always buckle up no matter where you are riding in a vehicle,” said Tiffany Wright, AAA Carolinas spokesperson. “Failure to do so not only puts you at risk, but can be dangerous to the rest of the passengers in the car as you could hit them with a force strong enough to cause serious injury or even death.”

Testing by the IIHS found a driver who has an unbelted passenger sitting behind him is twice as likely to die in the event of a wreck, even if wearing a seat belt. When traveling at just 35 mph, the unbelted rear passenger will slam into the driver with a force strong enough to deflate the airbag.

Cellphones can be deadly on the road

The report also showed that people are least likely to belt up in the back when they are taking a short-distance ride in a hailed car — like an Uber or taxi. Four out of five adults surveyed say short trips or traveling by taxi or ride-hailing service are times they don’t bother to use a belt.

Wearing a seat belt at all times during travel – no matter the distance and no matter the position in the vehicle – is necessary and sensible for personal and passenger safety.

And in the case of the back seat, it is not younger people, so often identified as those most at risk on the roads, needing to get the message most.

Road rage contributes to death toll

The IIHS study found those ages 35 to 54 were the least likely group to report buckling up in the back seat. Only 66 percent of the group reported “always” bucking up in the back -- compared to 73 percent of adults 18 to 34.

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