Some lessons you only have to learn once.
Way back in the dark ages, when I was living in the Washington, D.C., metro area, I drove the Capital Beltway to work. I commuted from northern Virginia to suburban Maryland, 35 miles each way, five days a week.
It was a pretty routine drive, despite the expected congestion and delays. Until that one morning.
It was raining, and traffic was slow, about 30 to 35 mph. Everything was proceeding fine until one car hit the brakes without warning. The car behind that one hit it in the rear. A third car hit the second.
There was no way to avoid it, no time to react, no way out. My Honda Civic was the fourth car. It hit the rear of the third, followed by two more cars crashing into the rear of the Civic.
Then, as now, I was wearing glasses. I watched as they flew off my face and slammed into the windshield in front of me. Had I not been wearing a seat belt, my head would have done the same thing.
Fortunately, everyone involved in the “minor” crash had their belts on, and no one was seriously hurt. But it all could have been so much worse.
I’ve always been pretty conscientious about seat belt use since I started driving, but that one episode removed all doubt. I have never stepped into a car since without buckling my seat belt.
Remember, this was “only” at 30 to 35 mph. Without the seat belt, at the very least, we’re talking about a probable concussion. Or a possible permanent brain injury. Worst case scenario, I wouldn’t be here to write this.
Sadly, my lesson is one some folks never get the chance to learn. In the past week, two tragic road accidents here in Central Florida have taken the lives of at least four people — I say “at least” because about a dozen are still hospitalized. Seat belts and child restraints could have made a difference.
In the first incident, a driver apparently lost control of an SUV on a dirt road. The vehicle rolled over, ejecting all five occupants. The victims weren’t found until nearly six hours after the crash. By that time, three of the five were dead. One survivor was critically injured, the other seriously injured. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, none were wearing seat belts.
The second incident occurred on a major roadway Monday afternoon. Another SUV experienced a tire blowout at speed. Once again, the vehicle rolled over multiple times, ejecting passengers as it did. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene. Nine other people, seven of them children, were hospitalized.
I will concede it’s possible to be ejected from a vehicle while wearing a seat belt. But it’s a whole lot less likely. And if you’re restrained inside the vehicle, you’re considerably less likely to die than if you’re flying through the air outside it. That’s basic physics in action, not rocket science.
And not having children properly secured in child restraint seats is criminal negligence in my book.
Yes, these deaths were tragic, the results of unforeseen circumstances. But four people might be alive today, and 11 others might not be hospitalized, if they had been properly buckled in. We’ve got 60 years of evidence on this. Seat belts save lives.
If you’re one of the folks who don’t wear seat belts, or think they’re too much trouble for short, low-speed trips, that’s your right.
But if that’s the way you’re going to drive, at least have the decency to sign your organ donor card before you get in the car.