Even All-Stars Need Seatbelts

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I've been a Mets fan all my life (and that's something, considering I was born in 1947), so I reacted to the news about ace pitcher Tom Glavine's recent auto accident with alarm. Not that I expect great things from the team this year that dream faded away like a highway mirage in July. But even though Tom is at an advanced age for a pitcher, he may well have a few more good years in him, and there's no doubt the team will be better next year (I always say that!). So I was upset to hear of his injuries and then relieved to learn of their minor nature he lost his two front teeth. (Ironically, he had to choose as a youngster whether to devote himself to baseball or hockey and he chose baseball in order to "keep all my teeth").

But there was no reason for him to have suffered any injury at all! Damage to teeth is a sure sign that he failed to use his seatbelt. Being in a taxi is no excuse for failing to use this life-saving device.

Coincidentally, this accident comes at the same time that the good news arrived from the U.S. Department of Transportation: highway traffic fatalities decreased in 2003, for the first time in six years. The credit is ascribed to increased use of seatbelts. Fewer deaths occurred despite an increase in miles driven and an increase in the number of senior citizens driving they're a group known to be at high risk for accidents. Motorcycle deaths, unfortunately, continued to climb, as fewer bikers used life-saving helmets.

The carnage is still unacceptable: over 42,000 dead in 2003! But the toll would have been many thousands more if seatbelts weren't being used. The DOT estimates that about 79% of vehicle occupants buckled up, an increase from the 75% in 2002. We need to get more Americans to use their seatbelts and save more lives. These deaths are entirely preventable.

Listen, Tom buckle up, even in taxis! The Mets need you to beat the Yanks in 2005!

Gilbert Ross, M.D., is Medical and Executive Director of the American Council on Science and Health.