It is really uncomfortable. The thing restrains me too much. There are too many places where it doesn’t fit right. This really is an infringement upon my freedoms. I always forget to wear it. The government has no right to tell me what to do. Initially, their use was to be voluntary.

Sound familiar? It should. People have been saying those words for almost 50 years. The first seat belt law took effect in the year 1968. The law required manufacturers to place seat belts into vehicles. But the use of the belts didn’t become mandatory until each state passed its own law.

Restraints in cars had been around for years. Edward J. Claghorn was given the first patent for an automobile safety harness in 1885. He was interested in keeping New York tourists from falling out of taxicabs. In the 1950s, car makers offered seat belts as an option. A new Ford could sport the belts in the front seats for an extra $27.

New York was the first state to pass a law that required riders in cars to wear seat belts. It took them nearly 20 years for the politicians to argue about the rights of individuals. Time was taken in using proper wording of the law to make it fair and effective. New Hampshire is the only state that has no enforceable law requiring their usage.

The deaths of people involved in car accidents was sky-rocketing. Between 1920 and 1960 the rate of auto deaths doubled, from 11 people per 100,000 to 22 people. Collecting data takes time, but statistics began to prove that wearing the belts saved lives. The numbers showed a decrease in traffic fatalities because of their use. What could be done to encourage the use of seat belts?

The National Safety Council (NSC) is a non-profit, public service organization which promotes health and safety in the United States. The organization is headquartered in Itasca, Illinois, and was granted a congressional charter in 1953. Today, there are more than 55,000 members, which include both businesses and individuals.

They used public service announcements on radio and television to get their message of safety in the areas of preventable injuries to the people. Today, many messages concerning cell phone use while driving have been championed by the NSC. But in the middle 1960s, the organization hired Richard Trentlage, a smiling ukulele player from Chicago, to assist in the effort.

Trentlage, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 87, was an American jingle writer. He had written many jingles for commercials through a Chicago ad agency used by many companies, including McDonald’s and V8. But in 1962 he entered a contest for a business that wanted a jingle. With the deadline the next day, his wife played the standup bass next to him and Trentlage strummed chords on a ukulele.

Sitting on his knees, his son and daughter sang the words that you can probably still sing today: “Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.”

For the National Safety Council, Trentlage penned the words “Buckle up for safety, buckle up. Show the world you care, by the belt you wear. Get your seat belts buckled, everybody buckle up.” Decades later, other agencies remind us to “Click it, or ticket” so that we will obey the laws.

Wearing a face mask because of the pandemic remains a controversial issue. As recently as June 1 of this year, Townhall.com ran an article titled, “8 Reasons Why I Don’t Wear a Mask.” On July 12 USA Today printed an article, “Some Americans refuse to mask up. Rules, fines and free masks will change that.” Some see the divide as partisan politics. Others see it as the only way to avoid another shutdown of the economy.

Walmart announced every customer at their stores, including Sam’s Club, will be required to wear a mask regardless of local laws in order to enter their stores. Costco, Best Buy and Apple had already produced similar policies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called upon Americans to wear masks voluntarily in public, stopping short of a national mandate.

We need to weigh the value of the information we receive. In today’s culture of information overload, we can find what appears to be credible information from experts on both sides of nearly every issue. It is important that we are diligent in avoiding being gullible.

Someone asked the other day, “Are you going to wear masks when you go out?” I already do. At church Sunday my wife and I wore masks despite being in a very small minority. The same held true at a restaurant for lunch that day and a trip to buy items at a local store.

I am not sure your position on this subject. Even today, I read differing opinions on whether the masks help protect us, whether the disease is spread mostly on surfaces or through the air, and whether laws mandating their use is constitutional and enforceable. Time will tell which side has the correct answers.

I am wearing masks because it makes a statement of what I think about those in authority and what I think about you. Even when officials shy away from passing a law, they are asking me to do it voluntarily. Wearing a mask says I value your health and your life enough to change my behavior. It is a way that I can help you feel safe. It says I am willing to cooperate.

From the Catbird Seat, show the world you care by the mask you wear.

Tom May is a freelance writer and educator, and a columnist for the News and Tribune. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com.

Recommended for you