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U.S. BEGINNING DRIVE TO BOOST USE OF SEAT BELTS

The Clinton administration is pushing to increase national seat belt use from 68 percent to 85 percent by 2000.

Reaching that goal would save 4,000 lives, prevent 100,000 injuries and save billions of dollars in medical costs each year, Dr. Ricardo Martinez, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Monday.

More than 40,000 people die annually in automobile crashes, and 60 percent of them are not wearing seat belts or child restraints, safety officials said.

"Far too many of these tragedies could be prevented," President Clinton said in a videotaped message broadcast to more than 80 business, medical, academic, government and law enforcement sites around the nation.

Seat belts now save about 9,500 lives annually, the government estimates.

The strategy for increasing usage hinges on changing personal behavior and societal attitudes. Officials say riding unbuckled in autos must become unacceptable in America, much like drunken driving is today.

Transportation officials also say they want states to enact tougher seat belt laws and enforce them. They want increased fines and even penalty points on a driver's record for those failing to buckle up.

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