York County residents can give themselves a pat on the back for having one of the highest levels of seat belt use in the state. And we probably have the mandatory seat belt law to thank for it.
At 84.4 percent, the percentage of people buckling up in York County is higher than the state average of 79 percent, higher than the national average of 82 percent and second-highest among the 16 counties surveyed in the state. Police say it now is difficult to find drivers to cite for not wearing a seat belt.
Approving the mandatory seat belt law five years ago no doubt had an effect on drivers' habits. Under that law, however, officers could cite motorists for seat belt violations only if they were stopped for other offenses. A change in the law three years ago, making failure to buckle up a primary offense and allowing officers to stop and cite motorists for that offense alone, greatly increased the effectiveness of the law.
But while the law initially may have helped compelled more people to buckle up, we suspect it now has become a habit for most. Once people become conditioned to putting on a seat belt every time they get into a car, it soon become second nature.
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And make no mistake, it's a good habit to have. Of the 372 vehicle occupants who have died this year on South Carolina roads, 239 were not wearing seat belts.
Not wearing a seat belt is not only illegal, it's dumb.