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Editorial: Tragic lesson for teens

Young lives lost in traffic accidents have a particular poignancy to them. People of all ages die tragically in crashes every day. But the fact that many teenagers look forward with great longing to the day they can drive or ride with friends makes their death on the highways especially cruel.
The death Sunday of 14-year-old Jonathan Richardson is one such fatality. He was riding with a 17-year-old friend who lost control of the pickup they were in. Words cannot express the emotions that the young driver and Jonathan’s family are going through.
This is a painful time for the teen’s peers, but it can also be a learning time. Lesson No. 1 is this: Always wear a seat belt. You can’t control road conditions, vehicle safety or, if you’re a passenger, the driver’s skill. But you can control whether you wear a seat belt.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds in this country, and some two-thirds of teen victims were not wearing seat belts at the time of their crash. Put teens in a pickup, and the chance they’ll wear seat belts is practically nil. Pickups are among the deadliest vehicles on the road ó twice as likely as passenger cars to roll over in a crash. Yet their occupants are the least likely to regularly wear seat belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
People find lots of objections to seat belts. They’ll say the belts are uncomfortable or inconvenient. Or they’re just traveling a short distance (though most crashes happen close to home). As for young people, shunning seat belts may be another sign of teenage rebellion, aided by their sense of invincibility and a desire to be cool. More likely, they’re in too much of a rush to worry about safety. They’re focussed on other things, and they simply forget.
It’s not certain that a seat belt would have saved Jonathan Richardson’s life, but wearing a seat belt is a strong safeguard against being ejected from a vehicle by the force of a crash. People young and old should keep that in mind. The minor inconvenience of wearing a seat belt can prevent unspeakable loss.

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