HOLLYWOOD isn't buckling up, study says

Thursday, August 30th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ They smoke too much, they drink too much. Now, research shows that movie characters are guilty of another bad habit: They don't buckle up.

A Saint Louis University study published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health found that characters in movies are far less likely to use seat belts than Americans in real life.

Researcher Heather Jacobsen said seat belts were used in about 30 percent of movies studied, while the national usage rate is 70 percent.

Seat belt usage has tripled in the United States since the mid-1980s, thanks largely to public service campaigns and passage of stricter seat belt laws in most states.

Jacobsen said seat belt usage has also tripled in the movies since the days when Burt Reynolds raced through the South in ``Smokey and the Bandit,'' but the reel riders still aren't as safety-conscious as the real ones.

``Every time a character is shown in a moving vehicle without wearing a seat belt, an opportunity _ however subtle _ is missed to promote seat belt use,'' she said.

A spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America in Washington did not return calls for comment.

The Saint Louis researchers looked at 198 movies from 1978 to 1998, or about 10 per year. They excluded movies that took place outside the United States or in non-contemporary time periods, movies that contained no humans or car scenes, cartoons and movies rated X or NC-17.

Seat belt usage was somewhat higher in family movies, but even the characters in movies like ``Goonies'' and ``Honey, I Shrunk the Kids'' were lax about buckling up, Jacobsen said.

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