The National Automobile Dealers Association has joined a safety campaign that's near and dear to me: getting motorists to use seat belts, even if it means slapping them with traffic tickets.

Only 20 states have primary seat-belt laws on their books, notes NADA Chairman Alan Starling, a Florida dealer.

Seat belt use in these states is significantly higher than in states with secondary seat-belts laws, where police must first ticket a motorist for another violation before issuing a seat-belt violation.

So NADA and other groups are urging all states to adopt primary seat belt laws, which would allow the police to stop and ticket motorists for the sole but egregious offense of not wearing seat belts.

“NADA is committed to improving automobile safety, and we're pleased to be a part of a campaign that shares that goal,” says Starling. “Dealers are in a strong position to make a real difference in the driving-public's safety. Encouraging more states to pass primary enforcement laws is one important example.”

There seems to be a paranoia among Americans about giving traffic enforcement officers the authority to do a complete job of educating drivers that seat belts save lives.

I've long championed primary seat-belt legislation for good reasons, some of them very personal.

For one thing, a seat belt saved my life (or at least spared me permanent brain damage) when I was involved in a crash.

Then, there's what I witnessed during my years as a dealer in Massachusetts. My dealership provided a 24-hour towing service for our town. On Monday mornings I would walk out back to inspect the wrecks towed in over the weekend.

Often I'd meet distraught parents of the drivers. Some had just returned from the local hospital where they had authorized discontinuing life-support machines that kept their teenage kids temporarily alive.

Evidence of such terrible accidents was sometimes plainly visible from the clumps of hair in a sickening glass starburst in the wreck's windshield. It's where a human head hit the glass. It wouldn't have happened if seat belts had been worn.

I once had a neighbor who believed personal freedom was at risk by legislation requiring people to wear safety belts. He paid a high personal price for his beliefs. Two of his sons had auto accidents within a short time of each other. One young man was killed. The other suffered permanent brain injury.

National Safety Council research indicates adults who habitually don't buckle up have children likely to follow that bad example. This was a primary reason why my neighbor's boys didn't use seat belts. Father doesn't always know best.

There's much talk these days about the high cost of medical care. It would cost less if more people wore seat belts.

The safety council says average hospital care costs for unbelted crash victims are 50% higher than for those who wear seat belts. This affects all of us. All Americans pay higher health care and insurance costs because of unbelted drivers and passengers. Society picks up 85% of those costs.

If everyone consistently buckled up when operating an automobile, 7,300 lives could be saved annually, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Saying that seat belts don't save lives (and money) is like saying sunshine doesn't affect plant life.

Car dealers enjoy an improved image these days. One reason is their willingness to join worthy causes, such as this latest seat-belt campaign. Dealers should embrace it with their growing influence and reputations of getting things done across the country and in their communities.

Primary seat-belt laws are vital to save lives everywhere, not just in a minority of 20 states.

NADA has also initiated a booster-seat awareness campaign this year to promote child seat safety.

The “Boost for Safety” campaign, conducted in partnership with the NHTSA, is a national grassroots effort to raise awareness about proper booster-seat use for the parents of children between the ages of four and eight.

As a former NADA director, I'm proud that it's showing its value as an influential organization while showing how much it values human life.

Nat Shulman is a retired Massachusetts dealer now living in Hawaii.