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For years, we’ve harped on the use of seat belts in vehicles.

We’ve cited statistics that show wearing safety belts is your best defense in a vehicle crash. We’ve shared anecdotal evidence from law enforcement officers. They routinely see wrecks in which those who buckled up, walk away. Those who didn’t are taken away in an ambulance.

So this time, we’re not here to scold, harp or cajole. We’re here to thank you. Increasingly, you’ve heeded the advice.

The Missouri Department of Transportation this week announced that seat belt usage has climbed to its highest rate ever.

According to a MoDOT news release, the latest Missouri Seat Belt Usage Survey, which has been taken annually since 1998, shows 87.1 percent of Missourians use a safety belt. In 1998, that figure was 60 percent.

Over the past two years, the rate has increased almost 6 percent. That’s a credit to MoDOT and other agencies for getting out the word that seat belts save lives. But it’s also a credit to you, drivers and passengers, who have heeded the advice, realizing that this simple five-second task gives you an incredible amount of protection in a wreck.

Technology is making vehicles safer ever year. Many of the newest models let you know when you’ve crossed the center line on a road, for instance. Such features should prevent many wrecks in the first place.

But as long as there are cars, there will be wrecks. And, at least right now, the best way to minimize injuries in a wreck is to buckle up.

We still have progress to make. Missouri still is slightly behind the national average (89.7 percent) of people who wear seat belts.

But for now, we’re content to celebrate our considerable progress at increasing our seat belt usage.

News Tribune

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