A confounding 11.5 percent of Americans put themselves at risk by not buckling up. The consequences, from higher insurance rates to compromised car design, affect us all.

More than a half century of safety advances, public-relations campaigns, legislation, and advertising pitches by the Department of Transportation and the world’s automakers have persuaded 88.5 percent of Americans to fasten their seat belts when they get into their cars.
But that also means 11.5 percent of vehicle drivers and passengers still don’t buckle up. That translates to almost 25 million people who ignore the public-service ads, the reminder chimes in their vehicles, the 49 state laws that make seat belt use mandatory, and the nagging from loved ones who do click into their seat belts. 

Seat belts have been standard equipment in passenger cars since 1968. Usage was low at first, but in the 1980s states began to set mandatory seat belt laws. The DOT then pushed out a large-scale public-education campaign, which turned crash-test dummies into cultural icons.

The results were significant. After New York State passed the first seat belt law in 1984, observed belt use rose from 14 percent to 37 percent within two years. By the end of the 1990s, it was above 70 percent.

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