A TV commercial I saw recently showed a man sitting at the wheel of his car in a dreamlike state; in the rear seats, a storm of fun surrounds some children. The man is pelted by chips and Cheetos, and he sits, still and unmoving, until something important happens: the kids buckle their seat belts. The ad closes with something along the lines of “It’s better when they’re buckled.” I could have written that ad, because the two youngest of my children would pile into the back seat of the car and party, laughing, giggling and poking each other for a great gulp of time. Gradually, it would occur to them that the car had not moved. And then, they would buckle up.
My two grandchildren, Xavion and Imani, are models of compliance when it comes to buckling seat belts. (They also live in New Jersey, a state that has been aggressive in monitoring seat belt buckling.) Listening from the front, I hear the two kids tumble into the rear passenger seats, and there is an immediate “click” as the seat belt semi-circle is closed. Mom asks, “Everyone buckled?” at the same time that she starts the car, knowing that the kids are clamped. When 13-year-old Xavion was small, but able to buckle himself, he would do so; when Lisa asked her son if he was secure, he would respond, “I buckled, mommy.” He was so reliable in that regard that Lisa was shocked to hear, one day, “MOMMY! I NOT SAFE! I NOT SAFE!” She had driven away before her son had completed his buckling, and he let her know.
When a man told me that he hated seat belts, I did not ask why. For the short period of time that I spent in the passenger seat of his car, I just hoped that his driving would not result in the need for the extraction of his body from the windshield. I’ve found, in an unscientific, casual survey way, that people who “hate seat belts” do so primarily for one of two reasons: discomfort, or a resistance to “government overreach.” But statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about seat belt safety show that belting has benefits.
In 2015, 22,441 people died in motor vehicle crashes; more than half of the teens (13-19 years) and adults aged 22-44, were unrestrained at the time of the accident. That same year, almost 14,000 lives were saved by buckled belts. The CDC notes that “serious crash-related injuries and death” are reduced by about half with the use of seat belts. And while anecdotal evidence may be unreliable when measuring statistical probabilities, my two daughters have had different car crash results that support the proper use of seat belts.
In 2003, my youngest daughter, then 15, was a passenger in a friend’s car when it was struck by another; Lauren was ejected from the car. She exploded through a closed window, sailed over the trunk of the other car and into a homeowner’s yard. When I asked her, later, where her seat belt was — she has spent many motionless minutes in my car while I waited for her to buckle up — she told me, “It was in my hand; I was getting ready to buckle it.” The following year, her sister had a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old children in her car when it was smashed into by another. Lisa’s airbag deployed but her belt held, and Xavion and Imani were safely secured in the back seat.
It is a simple task, easily ingrained in our muscle memory: buckle up.
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