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Coins are actually safe to handle because while you used to get 1-Up by gathering 100 rings, their count did not reset to zero after reaching it.

Modern Sonic games dropped the "lives" concept entirely as far I know so you just collect the rings for scoring purposes those days. I'm surprised Mario games still use them... I guess it's a bit of tradition but with infinite continues and constant checkpoints lives in Mario games are more decoration than anything.