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E.T. to drive home safe road message

The Buckle Up program to air alien's plea during Super Bowl XXXIII

E.T. is returning to Earth, this time on a different kind of mission.

The long-fingered extra-terrestrial is to be the mascot of a national campaign to emphasize the importance of safe driving.

E.T.’s new starring role in the federal government’s Buckle-Up America campaign was announced Monday by Universal Studios, Amblin Entertainment and Progressive Insurance in response to President Clinton’s initiative to improve safety on the country’s roads. The announcement was made to coincide with the yearend holidays, a time when safe driving is of heightened concern and awareness.

“E.T. holds a special place in so many hearts,” said Steven Spielberg, the critter’s creator. “I’m extremely pleased that the values symbolized by E.T. will be used to aid and address the issues of safe driving.”

The immediate goal is to increase the rate of seat-belt usage from the current 68% to at least 90% by the year 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The improvement in usage could prevent more than 5,500 deaths and 133,000 injuries, the agency said. There were 42,000 fatalities and 3.5 million injuries on American roads in 1997.

Public-service announcements, funded by Progressive Insurance, will feature a new E.T graphic designed by the Arnell Group and will begin airing in January. The PSAs will remind viewers to buckle up and will also deliver tips on other driving problems such as drunken drinking and road rage.

The Buckle-Up program’s television campaign is scheduled to include the Super Bowl XXXIII broadcast.

Directed by Spielberg and produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) ranks among the top 10 highest-grossing movies of all time, with worldwide box office receipts of $700 million.

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