Monday, February 22, 2010

Seat Belts

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, as part of a 4-H project, I got very involved with promoting public safety. As part of the program several of us were on a live weekly radio program about safety, especially automobile safety.

We would often talk about the need for automobile seat belts. This was in 1961 and very few manufactures offered seat belts as optional equipment, much less standard equipment. By the time I was 15 I was very much convinced that seat belts could and did save lives.

I was not quite 16 when I got me first car, a bright green 1952 Pontiac Catalina 2-door hardtop. The first thing I did on the very first weekend, was go down to the auto parts shop and buy a set of seat belts and install them myself, making sure that they were bolted directly to the frame of the car. I never started the car without first buckling the seat belt.

A year or so later, I was driving home from school with a friend when I topped a hill doing about 60 MPH to find another car straddling the center line. I swerved but over corrected and hit the steep ditch nose first. The car flipped over end for end, sliding upside down on the pavement, before continuing to roll, landing on its wheels.

My friend and I jumped out of the car as I realized that my beautiful Pontiac was now a scrap of metal with deep grooves gouged in the roof from our upside down slide. Neither of us had a scratch. Without seat belts, the outcome would have been much different. Many people have been killed in much less serious accidents because they hadn’t bothered to fasten the seat belt that was already in the car.

After that I got a 1956 Pontiac, a 1958 Oldsmobile, and ’59 Olds, all of which I installed seat belts myself. The next car, a ’61 Chrysler New Yorker came with factory belts. A ’61 Thunderbird was the last car that I had to install seat belts in, after that, the other 30 or so cars I’ve owned came with factory seat belts, mostly three-point types with a shoulder belt.

A little know statistic is that traffic fatalities per mile driven have dropped every year since the 1920’s when they first started keeping track of such things. This is largely due to increased use of seatbelts, with slight improvements due to better belts and airbags. The other big reasons are better highways and cars that stop and handle better.

I was thinking about this after seeing the movie “Crazy Heart” last weekend. In one scene, the hero, “Bad Blake” suffers a concussion and a broken ankle after rolling his Suburban without having his seatbelt on. It reminded me of another relatively minor accident a few years ago when a Kansas City Chiefs football player was killed when he was thrown from his Suburban because he didn’t have his seatbelt fastened.

Fasten those seatbelts folks. Somebody might need you someday.