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Glazer: Teach kids early to wear their seat belts
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Molly, our oldest daughter, had been driving for three months when she totaled her car. She hit a patch of black ice and skidded nose-first into a ditch. The driver behind her hit the same patch and slammed into the back of her car. Her little green Honda was compressed to the size of a Mini Cooper.

When I called our insurance company to report the accident, the agent commented, "As a rule, new drivers have at least one wreck in the first 6 months." I wish I'd known that ahead of time. I would have decreased my deductible.

One of the wisest things my father ever said to me was, "If money can fix it, it's not a problem."

That was especially true in the case of this January 2004 accident. The only damages were to metal and plastic. Both drivers unbuckled their seat belts and walked away uninjured.

And of course the operative phrase here is "unbuckled their seat belts."

Breaking news makes me crazy. I logged onto the Times' website over the July 4 weekend and saw a breaking story of a terrible accident in North Hall County. Two teenagers had been killed and three others injured.

Names had not been released. The only additional information was that the Georgia State Patrol said no one had been wearing a seat belt. I was left to wonder for half a day if any of the victims were friends of my 16-year-old.

It turns out they weren't but that was no solace. They were somebody's friends, somebody's kids. Right now, two families are experiencing pain beyond comprehension as they make preparations to bury their children.

I once had the mother of a grade schooler tell me, "I've just given up. He refuses to wear a seat belt and I can't make him. If I get a ticket, so be it." I was astounded. To me, it seemed the solution would be to simply not let him in the car until he submitted to being buckled in.

You leave a kid behind a few times when others are going on trips to the toy store or McDonald's and they'll change their tune in a hurry. But no, that would be too much trouble, she told me.

Given her approach to parenting, I suspect now, 10 years down the road, her troubles have compounded to far more than seat belts.

The Centers for Disease Control has a Parent's Pledge for Safe Teen Driving.

The very first line is:

"I pledge to make sure my teen always buckles his/her seat belt." It ends with "I will make this happen. I pledge this. I love my child. So I pledge this."

The CDC has good reason to make seat belt use front and center in their pledge. Their research has shown that, compared with all other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2005, 10 percent of high school students reported they rarely or never wear seat belts when riding with someone else.

Male high school students (12.5 percent) were more likely than female students (7.8 percent) to rarely or never wear seat belts. African-American students (12 percent) and Hispanic students (13 percent) were more likely than white students (10.1 percent) to rarely or never wear seat belts.

So what can we, as parents, do? First, I think, we have to set a good example. That means we have to always wear our seat belts. Always. Even when moving the car on the driveway. Emphasize it to our little ones. Make a big deal out of it.
Now that children are required to stay in booster seats until they're 8, make being able to ride with a seat belt a special privilege, a rite of passage.

Next, take no prisoners. If a teenager fails to buckle up, they're back on the school bus. That's also the punishment if they allow a passenger to ride unbuckled. They have to understand that this is a dealbreaker.

Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety had this to say: "Wearing seat belts is a proactive thing we know saves lives.

Unfortunately, many young people believe they are invincible and immune from injury. While incidents like this one can become profound teaching moments for their peers, there is little consolation for their family."

Life offers no guarantees. Parents can only do their best and hope it's good enough. And say a little prayer every time their child backs out of the driveway.

Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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