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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a pediatric nurse-practitioner. In the past few years, I have seen more and more car advertisements featuring teen-agers not wearing seat belts. The most blatant was one with four prom-goers standing with their upper bodies sticking out above the sunroof of a limo. I should think the insurance industry would be having a fit that the media could be so irresponsible about a serious safety issue.

Teens do not comprehend their own vulnerability. This makes it almost impossible for parents to get them to wear seat belts when ads like these make it seem glamorous not to. Many parents believe their children "always" wear seat belts, only to discover the truth after a tragic accident.

Motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 killer of adolescents -- not drugs, not suicide or homicide. With spring here, and proms fast approaching, we need to keep stressing the importance of wearing seat belts.

No parent I talked to had seen the prom ad. Public opinion stopped the oversexualizing of underwear ads a few years back. I'd like the same thing to happen with ads that glamorize the non-use of seat belts. -- JOAN BUCHANAN

DEAR JOAN: Yours is a timely letter. Prom and grad nights are again upon us -- and it takes only a second to buckle up.

The souvenirs of prom night should consist of dried corsages and boutonnieres -- not physical scars, broken bones and shattered lives. And while we're on the subject of responsible advertising, read on:

DEAR ABBY: I am appalled at the number of commercials depicting four-wheel-drive vehicles conquering dangerous terrain -- "going where no other car has gone before." The commercials convey the message that you can cross streams, fly through blizzards, dodge carnivorous animals or climb ominous mountain peaks. Some commercials are downright ridiculous.

I have lived in snow country all my life. I am presently the owner of an SUV and have owned other makes depicted in the advertising. They are necessary to my lifestyle. My concern is the message they send to young or inexperienced drivers. This includes the adult driver who is chemically impaired.

The statistics reveal that a high percentage of accidents -- many fatal -- are caused by the misuse of these four-wheel-drive vehicles. Drivers mistakenly believe they are invincible -- driving too fast for the conditions, trying to maneuver in places they shouldn't be, and in general, abandoning common sense.

My son (an experienced teen-age driver) attempted to cross a stream in his Jeep. The commercial presented it as an easily accomplished feat. His vehicle became stuck, creating a dam of water that entered the air filter and destroyed the engine. He was, however, one of the lucky ones. Only the vehicle sustained major damage.

Perhaps the automakers should follow their commercials with a list of the deceased or badly injured who attempt these feats and fail. I believe they need to rethink their enticing invitation to test the limits behind the wheel. -- LIZZIE IN MONTROSE, COLO.

DEAR LIZZIE: I agree. Such ads create a false impression and should be toned down in the interest of public safety.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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