The feeling of invulnerability, the belief that no harm can come to you, is genetically encoded into the human adolescent. Males, particularly. That is why they join the Army, ride for the Pony Express, try to cram a semester's worth of school work into a single night and experiment with other potentially harmful behaviors.
So any hint that more Utah teenagers are making a bow to their own mortality by wearing their seat belts when they drive is a major accomplishment.
According to a new survey released the other day by the Utah Highway Patrol, measurable use of seat belts is up in our state, particularly among targeted populations where it had been lagging before rural residents and teenagers. Not only do more people report wearing their seat belts, the percentage of teen accident victims who had failed to buckle up something the patrol can more accurately measure dropped by upwards of 70 percent between 2003 and 2012.
The survey also found that while rural residents used to be three times more likely to go without a seat belt perhaps resenting the grasp of the very urban, civilized behavior their lifestyles were intended to avoid they are now only slightly less likely to be unrestrained.
While law enforcement deserves much of the credit for this change, the key to this apparent awakening is not so much about the law as it is about officers and others doing a tireless job of simply presenting the facts, in schools, on billboards, on TV, wherever two or more are gathered.
Seat belts save lives. They significantly cut down on the hazards associated with operating a motor vehicle, allowing those who would have been killed to survive and those who would have been seriously injured to walk away.
The benefit flows not just to the particular people who were rescued, and to their loved ones, but also to the larger society.
The right of the state to demand that people buckle up when operating motor vehicles on public thoroughfares arises not simply from concern for those whose lives might be lost or whose limbs might be crushed.
It stems from the simple fact that the costs of those injuries and deaths medical bills, emergency services, lost productivity accrue to society as a whole. Fewer injuries and deaths on the highway not only reduce the human suffering that cannot be quantified, but also cold, hard financial costs to taxpayers and individuals.
To refuse to wear a seat belt is to make a decision that not only your own life doesn't matter, neither does the cost you are apparently willing to place on the shoulders of others.