As part of a long-term effort to increase driver and passenger safety through seat-belt use, the California Department of Transportation, along with other agencies, began posting "Click It Or Ticket" signs on freeways and highways throughout the state in 2004.

Combined with California Highway Patrol officers strictly enforcing the state's seat-belt law, and a $3.1 million ad campaign that included television and radio spots, the number of people using seat belts increased from 90.4 percent in 2004 to 92.5 percent in 2005.

According to Caltrans, this translates into an added 657,000 drivers and passengers buckling up in California. An impressive figure, but it still leaves 7.5 percent - some 2.7 million Californians - riding around in cars and trucks unbuckled.

Clearly, seat belts are the simplest and easiest means of improving one's odds of survival in a crash. It's no coincidence that, as the rate of seat-belt usage increases, the number of fatal car accidents is holding steady, even though the number of cars on the road and the miles driven are climbing.

Want more proof as to the value of wearing a seat belt? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2004, 671 Californians who died in traffic crashes would be alive today had they simply buckled up. Also, the National Center for Statistics and Analysis estimates that the 2.1 percent increase in seat-belt usage in California saved 63 lives and prevented 861 serious injuries.

Currently, only six states have higher seat-belt use rates: Hawaii, 95.3 percent; Washington, 95.2 percent; Nevada, 94.8 percent; Arizona, 94.2 percent; Oregon, 93.3 percent; and Michigan, 92.9 percent.

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