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(Los Angeles, CA)
Aug. 3, 2003, n.p.

Copyright 2003. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Young Americans Still Shunning Seat Belts
By Martha Irvine
AP National Writer

DEERFIELD, Wis. (AP)--The car was racing down a country road at speeds well over 100 mph, even though the cop who'd been chasing it had given up. So when the young passengers saw the "T" in the road ahead, they knew there was no way driver Matt Hotmann could stop or make the turn.

     Passenger Kyle Smith uttered a swear word. In the back seat, Mary Reinhart squeezed her friend Jeremy Budahn's hand and told him she loved him. "I love you, too, sweety," he said.

     Then Reinhart--knowing that a night of partying with a few friends was about to take a tragic turn--made a last-minute decision that probably saved her life: "I clicked my seat belt and covered my face." She heard the sound of cracking plastic and shattering glass as the car rolled several times into a frozen farm field.

     Budahn and Hotmann, who was her boyfriend, died instantly and Smith a few hours later in the hospital. All three were not wearing seat belts and suffered extensive head injuries when they were thrown from the car. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Reinhart walked away from the December accident with bruises on her hands, a few scratches and a black eye.

     Motor vehicle crashes remain the nation's leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year olds and in many cases, experts say, seat belts could have made a difference.

     Of the 5,341 teens killed in crashes in 2001, two-thirds were not wearing seat belts, according to the most recent statistics available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also known as NHTSA.

     "It's such a waste," Reinhart says as she sits in her family's home a few miles...

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