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In 1955, Ford became the first of the “Big Three” American automakers to offer seat belts as an option.

That is the same year I turned 14, and became eligible for a restricted driver’s license, now better known as a learner’s permit.

The first law making their use mandatory was enacted in Victoria, Australia, in 1970, according to my research. American lawmakers debated the issue of mandatory seat belts for years.

Virtually all research showed that they saved lives, but opponents vigorously opposed this infringement on their lifestyles.

The arguments ranged from the ridiculous (“they wrinkle my clothes”) to the sublime (“what if I run off the road into a lake and I’m knocked unconscious and the seatbelt keeps me from floating to the surface?”).

Sound a little familiar?

Now virtually all states require the wearing of seatbelts. Some people don’t like the law and some ignore it. There is a term for people who wear seatbelts whether they want to or not:

Survivors.

Face masks have become the seatbelts of the 21st Century.

Every indication is that aside from isolation, they are our most effective tool in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, which has become the plague of our times. It has claimed more than 120,000 American lives, which is more than the number of Americans killed in World War I.

Although I haven’t heard any scenarios in which wearing a face mask could actually cause your death, they can smear your make-up or make your cheeks itch.

And like seatbelts, some people refuse to wear them, regardless of what various cities or states require (those cities and states which put public health above political clamor).

But unlike seatbelts, masks don’t just protect those who wear them. They provide some protection to others sharing the same space. The protection is significantly increased when all parties are masked.

Speaking for myself, law or no law, I wear seatbelts even when nobody is watching — and I will wear a face mask, even when nobody is coughing.

When my days on earth have ended, at least my family won’t have to say: “If only he had been wearing a seatbelt (or a face mask).”

Maybe that’s worth something.

(S. L. Frisbie is retired. Early in his journalistic career, around 1960, he went riding with a North Florida law enforcement officer, who was driving at around 100 miles per hour at night, just because he could. “Ed,” S. L. said, “I think I’ll buckle my seatbelt.” “Fine,” he replied, “but first reach behind your seat and snap the other end of the belt to the rings bolted to the floor.”)